Cyclamen- Great Small Hardy Perennials for the Garden

Cyclamen- Great Small Hardy Perennials for the Garden

Article by Dennis Carey and Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery Inc.

Introduction to Hardy Cyclamen

My first encounter with Hardy Cyclamen was in the garden of the late Rachel Dunham of Cary, NC in the 1960s. I was amazed to see what I thought was a rare perennial, seeding all through her woodland lawn and was immediately struck by how tough cyclamen were, and obviously, how easy they were to cultivate. This started me on a lifetime of cyclamen fondness. My next encounter with the genus was tying to grow the non-hardy Cyclamen persicum hybrids which flooded the box store market starting in the 1970s. It was only after owning my first home that I tried hardy cyclamen for myself, starting in the early1980s, with the final piece of the puzzle coming together in an expedition to study them in the wild in 2010. Hardy cyclamen are a group of tuberous perennials, whose small stature make them perfect for rock gardens, alpine beds, or potted plants. They have charming pink, white or purple nodding flowers with upright petals that are reminiscent of fairy wings or shuttlecocks. Many cyclamen species bloom in the fall and late winter when there is little else in flower. In addition, cyclamen are prized for their often kaleidoscopic green and silver patterned leaves whose intricacy and variety of form are unmatched in the garden. Once you see a drift of cyclamen in bloom, you too will be enchanted and want to add them to your plant collection.

Although they have been used as ornamentals for the last 400 years or so, Cyclamen have been used medicinally for over 2000 years. Cyclamen first made their way into European gardens in the 1600s, but for a long time they remained a rare curiosity in specialty collections. In the 1800s the Victorians became enamored with the tender Cyclamen persicum and started breeding it into the multitudinous number of florists cyclamen cultivars that we see today. The Victorians prized cyclamen for their winter flowers and used them as a popular Christmas decoration…a practice that has grown into a huge business today.

Horticulturally, cyclamen are used primarily as indoor, winter-blooming potted plants and to a lesser extent as garden plants. Potted cyclamen plants have long been symbols of resignation and goodbye, and as such, they are often given to people when they move, change jobs, or retire. As garden plants, they have been used since at least the 1650s, but were not widely popular until after WWII.


Cyclamen are small plants which like to be planted under trees and shrubs. Cyclamen are easily covered up and out-competed by spreading perennials, so their best companions are small clumping plants such as anemone, buttercup, chionodoxa, crocus, scilla, snowdrops, winter aconites, primula, and small ferns and hostas. Reseeding perennials like hellebores can eventually smother small cyclamen.

Although Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen hederifolium are the most commonly grown garden species, many others also make worthy, easy-to-grow garden plants. According to Nancy Goodwin, gardeners who grow a wide array of species can have a succession of flowers in every month of the year. The following bloom calendar of selected species is based on our observations here in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA (Hardiness zone 7b, 35