Cyclamen: the houseplant with an amorous history

Try this 'hearts and flowers' plant for Valentine's Day.

  • Published: Monday, Feb. 8, 2021

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The cyclamen is Cupid’s flowering love child.

For centuries, people have associated cyclamens with matters of the heart, making it a perfect Valentine’s Day choice, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

Cultivars of this flowering houseplant bear heart-shaped leaves. Their fragrant red, pink, white or bicolored flowers have petals that flare backward, making the flowers resemble shooting stars, said Trinklein. Most cultivars have silver or grayish-white variegation on the upper surface of the leaves, adding ornamental interest.

The natural habitat of this cool-loving plant ranges from Europe and the Mediterranean eastward toward Iran. The ancient Greeks used the cyclamen to prepare a food that made the person who ate it fall madly in love. It was also believed to speed the delivery of babies and cure baldness.

Unfortunately, cyclamen’s tubers contain toxic compounds called saponins that lead to violent diarrhea, convulsions and paralysis. If eaten raw and in large quantities, the tubers could kill a “budding” romance.

If you want to give your Valentine cyclamen, choose plants with a multitude of buds in the center. Discolored leaf margins indicate root problems, said Trinklein.

Cyclamens bloom for several months if kept in a cool but brightly lit spot. They do best with temperatures of 50-60 degrees at night and 70 degrees or less during the day. Do not place cyclamen near a heat register or hot air duct. High temperatures cause the flower buds to abort.

Do not allow a cyclamen to wilt, said Trinklein. Water uniformly for best results. Too much water causes yellow leaves, small flowers and collapsing buds.

The perennial flower can be forced to bloom a second year. To rebloom a cyclamen, force it into dormancy by gradually by withholding water until the foliage dies back. Do not water for six to eight weeks. Begin watering the plant again by midsummer.

If tubers get too large, repot in a soilless growing medium such as a blend of peat, vermiculite and perlite. Keep half of the tuber above the soil line when repotting, then move it outside to a cool spot or to a shaded window. As leaves develop, resume normal watering and fertilization and move the plant to a sunnier location. Keep the growing medium moist. Feed with a houseplant fertilizer according to label instructions. Move the plant inside by fall. It should bloom again by midwinter.

Mites often infect cyclamen, causing curled and stunted leaves. Control with insecticides is difficult, and Trinklein suggests discarding mite-infested plants.

Photo available for this release:

https://extension.missouri.edu/media/wysiwyg/Extensiondata/NewsAdmin/Photos/stock/plants/cyclamen.jpg
Pink cyclamen. Photo by Tony Hisgett/CC BY 2.0. Attribution required.

Writer: Linda Geist

Media Contact

David Trinklein
573/882-9631

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