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Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum), also known as sowbread or florist cyclamen, is one of the most beautiful flowering houseplants. This species is easy to care for and grows elegant, brightly colored flowers against heart-shaped leaves in hues of light and dark green.
These attractive plants have a long history originating in regions of the Middle East, Mediterranean, and southern Europe. Long considered medicinal by Europeans, cyclamen was frequently planted near places of worship as a symbol of deep, abiding love and devotion because the tuber-like root bulbs of wild cyclamen varieties can be divided and replanted over and over again.
Today, cyclamen plants are prized as ornamental houseplants that flower in winter and are often given as holiday gifts. While these members of the primrose family are typically meant to be thrown away after their seasonal blooms fade, it's possible to keep them flowering year after year with the proper care. Just be sure to grow your cyclamen out of reach of children and pets, as this species is toxic when ingested.
- Botanical Name: Cyclamen persicum
- Common Name: Cyclamen, sowbread
- Plant Type: Perennial
- Mature Size: 6–9 inches tall and wide
- Sun Exposure: Partial light
- Soil Type: Well-drained potting soil
- Soil pH: 5.5
- Toxicity: Toxic to humans and pets
While it's flowering, your cyclamen needs close attention. Feed it with houseplant fertilizer every two weeks and water it frequently enough to keep the soil consistently moist. When blooming stops in late winter, your plant will go dormant and begin to lose its leaves. Water it very sparingly in spring. Once summer comes, move your cyclamen to a warm and dark or shaded spot in your home, then stop watering completely for two to three months.
In late summer, you can resume watering your cyclamen, taking care to soak the plant deeply the first time. Allow any excess water to drain from the pot, then move it back into an unheated or cool spot in your home with bright, indirect light. Soon, you should see new leaves emerging from the plant. If you've given the plant the right care and growing conditions, it'll flower once again in the winter.
Best Growing Conditions for Cyclamen Plants
You're likely to see cyclamen in shops and plant nurseries from early fall through early winter. Their blooming season can last as long as eight weeks, typically running from December through January. When choosing a specimen, carefully check behind the open blooms to find a plant with many unopened buds, which will extend its bloom time.
As your cyclamen's flowers fade, remove the dead blooms to help promote the opening of new buds.
When you first bring your cyclamen plant home, place it in a spot with lots of bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. After flowering, move your plant to a dark, shaded spot. Unlike many houseplants, cyclamen do best with cooler night temperatures (ideally in the 40s), although they can still survive nights as warm as 65 degrees. Consider keeping your cyclamen in an unheated portion of your home to best simulate these conditions. Cool temperatures can extend the bloom period up to an additional two months.
Since proper watering varies by season for this species, it's important to know the signs of an underwatered or overwatered plant. If your cyclamen's leaves begin to turn yellow and droop, it's time to cut back on water. Lack of flowering and foliage that appears crispy indicate that your plant needs a thorough watering.
Types of Cyclamen Plants
The best type of cyclamen for your home depends on whether you plan to grow this plant indoors or outdoors. Florist cyclamen plants, derived from wild Persian cyclamen, are typically available as houseplants and will grow to about 1 foot tall. Wild or hardy varieties like sowbread (C. coum), ivy-leaved cyclamen (C. hederifolium), and Neapolitan cyclamen (C. neapolitanum) grow to about 6 inches high and are grown as perennial outdoor garden plants.
How to Propagate Cyclamen Plants
Unfortunately, florist cyclamen can't be propagated from dividing tubers like hardy cyclamen species, which are typically grown as outdoor perennials. The cut sides of the tuber typically don't heal correctly, and the tubers just rot after being planted.
Commercially, florist cyclamen is propagated by seeds, which must be planted under specific light and temperature conditions around 18 months to two years before the plant will bloom. For this reason, it's best to simply purchase a new plant if you want another one, or follow the care directions above to keep the same cyclamen plant blooming year after year.
Common Problems With Cyclamen Plants
For this species, most growing problems are related to water (sometimes too little, but usually too much). Your cyclamen may also experience issues with common pests. Here's how to diagnose and treat your plant:
If you allow the soil to dry out while the plant is in flower, its blooms may die off. Keep your cyclamen's soil moist, but not soggy, consistently during its winter growing season. These plants also dislike wet leaves and stems, so if your cyclamen is underwatered, it's helpful to place its pot in a sink filled with water for a few hours to let it drink as it pleases.
Drooping or Yellowed Leaves
If your plant gets too much water, the leaves will start to droop. This is a much more common issue than underwatering when it comes to cyclamen plants. Allow the soil to begin drying out before adding any more water. In severe cases, it might be necessary to repot your plant in fresh soil (taking care to water it less going forward).
Named for this species, cyclamen mites are one of the most common pests that can infect your cyclamen plant. Stunted growth may be an early indicator of these pests, along with dying flowers or discoloration, streaks, and wrinkles on the leaves. Not all cyclamen plants affected by these mites will survive, so the best option is to dispose of your plant and replace it.
If you do decide to attempt treatment, the following method is best: Using clean gardening shears or pruners, trim off any affected sections of your plant. Next, submerge the entire plant—roots, leaves, and even flowers—in water heated to 110 degrees for 15 to 30 minutes. Ensure the water temperature remains consistent. This will kill the mites without causing lasting damage to your plant (be sure all excess water drains afterward).
Potting and Repotting Cyclamen Plants
The warm-weather dormant period is a great time to repot your plant, which you should do about every two years. If your plant is outgrowing its pot before the two-year mark, it's best to repot early to prevent it from becoming rootbound.
Fill a pot one size larger with standard potting soil. Gently remove your cyclamen from its old pot, shaking away all excess soil while taking care not to damage its roots. Replant the tuber in the fresh soil. Ensure the soil level around and above the tuber is the same as it was previously, then care for the plant as usual.
How to Get Cyclamen Plants to Bloom
If you're practicing the proper seasonal care for your cyclamen plant, it should readily bloom when its winter growing season comes around. There are a few reasons, however, that your plant might not bloom in winter.
First, ensure your cyclamen is not planted too deeply in the soil. Keep its tubers about 1 inch below the soil's surface. Improper temperature and light may also cause blooming problems for your plant: This species needs to undergo its period of low-light dormancy in the summer before flowering during winter. As the growing season approaches, place your cyclamen in a cool spot with temperatures in the 40s and bright, indirect light.
Are Cyclamen Indoor or Outdoor Plants?
Cyclamen can grow indoors or outdoors, and different varieties have been cultivated for each purpose. When growing cyclamen as a houseplant, it's safe to transport your plant outside in the fall once daytime temperatures drop below 70 degrees (ideally in the low 60s). Once temperatures drop below 40 degrees, it's best to bring your plant back inside to a cool area of your home.
Are Cyclamen Plants Easy to Care For?
Cyclamen plants are known for their easy growth habits during much of the year. However, this species requires more frequent waterings and bright, indirect light during its winter growing season. In the summer, your cyclamen will go dormant, and it's best to keep it in a cool, shady place until fall.
Do Cyclamen Come Back Every Year?
Cyclamen plants continue to flower year after year when growing with proper care. Along with providing the correct light and water conditions, ensure your cyclamen's tubers are planted about 1 inch deep in the soil (burying them too low can prevent blooms from coming back).
Can Cyclamen Stay Outside in Winter?
Some hardy cyclamen varieties can stay outside all winter long in below-freezing temperatures, but most common florist's cyclamen plants should be kept indoors. Ensure the conditions around your plant stay close to 40 degrees to encourage healthy growth.
Holiday Plant Toxicity. University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science.
Bertero A, Fossati P, Caloni F. Indoor companion animal poisoning by plants in Europe. Front Vet Sci. 2020;7:487. doi:10.3389/fvets.2020.00487