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Cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum

Cyclamen is a genus of 20 species of flowering plants In the past they have traditionally been classified in the family Primulaceae, but in recent years they have been reclassified in the family Myrsinaceae. The genus is most widely known by its scientific name cyclamen being taken into common usage; other names occasionally used include sowbread and sometimes, confusingly, persian violet (it is not related to the violets), or primrose (neither is it a primrose).

Cyclamens are native to the Mediterranean region from Spain east to Iran, and also in northeast Africa south to Somalia. They are perennial herbaceous aestivating plants, with a surface or underground corm (derived from the hypocotyl) 4-12 cm diameter, which produces leaves in late winter, and flowers in the autumn; the leaves die down during the hottest part of the Mediterranean summer drought to conserve water. The leaves are rounded to triangular, 2-10 cm long and 2-7 cm broad, and usually variegated with a pale silvery horseshoe-shaped mark round the middle of the leaf. The variegation is thought by some botanists to be a form of natural disruptive camouflage to reduce grazing damage by animals. The flowers are produced in whorls of 3-10, each flower on a slender stem 3-12 cm tall, with five united petals; the petals are usually reflexed back 90° to 180° erect above the flower, and vary from white through pink to red-purple, most commonly pale pink. The fruit is a five-chambered capsule 1-2 cm diameter, containing numerous sticky seeds about 2 mm diameter. Natural seed dispersal is by ants, which eat the sticky covering and then discard the seeds.

Cyclamens typically grow in dry forest or scrub, where they are at least partly shaded from intense sunlight. The species vary greatly in winter frost tolerance, with the hardiest species (C. hederifolium) tolerating temperatures down to -15°C, or -30°C if covered by snow; others, such as C. somalense from northeastern Somalia, do not tolerate any frost at all.

Cultivation and uses

Cyclamens are commonly grown for their flowers, both outdoors and indoors in pots. Several species are hardy and can be grown outdoors in mild climates such as northwest Europe and the Pacific Northwest. The cyclamen commonly sold by florists is C. persicum, which is frost-tender. Selected cyclamen cultivars can have white, bright pink, red or purple flowers.

In many areas within the native range, cyclamen populations have been severely depleted by collection from the wild, often illegally, for the horticultural trade; some species are now endangered as a result. However, in a few areas, plant conservation charities have educated local people to control the harvest carefully at a sustainable level, including sowing seed for future crops, both sustaining the wild populations and producing a reliable long-term income. Many cyclamens are also propagated in nurseries without harm to the wild plants.

Cyclamen species have been used medicinally, though not applied to the skin as an emetic as rumor tells.

Cyclamen Cyclamen persicum


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