Plant of the Month - March 2012


This fragrant plant from sunny Italy,
Plucked by our passing hand, was homeward brought:
Memorial of that favoured clime to be,
And minister sweet food to retrospective thought.

Unchecked in growth, it well repays our care,
Gladdening our cottage with its constant bloom:
By nature prompted, half the varied year;
The other,--gay in honour of its new--found home.

On a Cyclamen – Henry Alford (1810 – 1871)

The Cyclamen is a genus of 23 species of perennials growing from tubers, valued for their flowers with up-swept petals and variably patterned leaves. Cyclamen species are native from Europe and the Mediterranean region east to Iran, with one species in Somalia.

The fresh and delicate beauty of Cyclamen flowers were beloved by illustrators of the past, both for horticultural identification,

Cyclamen purpurascens - Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany. Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt Stueber.

and for attractive greetings cards.

Vintage birthday postcard with country scene surrounded by pink Cyclamen flowers, by John Winsch 1910

The species of Cyclamen of most interest to Castle Bromwich Hall Garden fans is Cyclamen coum. 

Cyclamen coum is a beautiful hardy perennial, that produces lovely dainty flowers from late winter to early spring. The leaves have silver marks around the edges and are over the beautiful dark green leaves. Coum loves both shade and partial shade, is not fussy with soil type, this can vary from light well drained soil to heavy clay soil. Likes acid or alkaline soil.

Cyclamen coum is one of a group of cyclamens (Cyclamen sub genus Gyrophoebe series Pubipedia) with stubby flowers and nearly round leaves. Species of the group are native to areas near the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean and the Black and Caspian Seas, from sea level to alpine tundra.

The tuber produces roots from the center of the bottom only.[2] It remains small, only reaching about 6.5 cm (2.6 in) across.

Leaves are round or kidney-shaped to long heart-shaped. The colour is all-silver, all-green, or silver variegated with a variably sized green hastate (arrowhead-shaped) or "Christmas tree" pattern and a green edge. The edge is smooth or gently toothed, but never angled and pointed as in Cyclamen hederifolium.

Flowers are squat, with almost round petals, unlike any other group of cyclamen species. They bloom from winter to spring. The petals are magenta, pink, or white, with a darker blotch at the base. Below the blotch is a small white or pink "eye".

The Cyclamen coum group also includes Cyclamen abchasicum, Cyclamen elegans, Cyclamen alpinum, Cyclamen parviflorum and Cyclamen pseudibericum.

Cyclamen coum can be located in the deciduous area of the lower wilderness.

Here are some photographs of the Cyclamen coum taken just a few days ago at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens (click on the pictures for full size):

All photographs copyright © 2012 Steve Webb - Used by kind permission.

The height of cyclamen coum is about 8cm and spread 10cm.

It is recommended that these gorgeous plants should be mulched annually with leaf mulch to prevent tubers drying out in the summer and protect from winter cold.

Unless you buy a named variety, the flower colour can vary from white to deep red. Plant the tubers 3cm to 5cm (1in to-2in) deep in humus-rich soil under the shade of trees. Mulch annually with leaf mould to help prevent the tubers from drying out in the summer and from winter cold. This plant has been given a Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which is for plants of outstanding excellence.

Medicinal history and folklore:


Andrea Mattioli, a prominent physician and writer who devoted many years to publishing various editions in numerous languages of his translations of the Discourses of Dioscorides. In his 1559 edition in Italian, Chapter CLI II is devoted to cyclamen.


Cyclamen has ivy like leaves, purplish, varied, with some spots on the top and white underneath. The stem is about four inches long and bare. On top are the flowers, red, rose like. The root is black, squashed, similar to a turnip.
Among the prescribed uses of cyclamen were the following:
It is said that pregnant women will abort if they walk over it.
If one wears it on herself, it speeds up delivery.
It can be drank to counteract any kind of poison, but especially the sea air.
As an ointment, it is good against serpent's bite.
Taken with wine, it makes one drunk.
It should be taken with wine or honey wine diluted with water for bile overflow in the proportion of three drams. It is necessary, however, to put the patient in a warm place with no drafts and well covered so that he will be able to sweat and the sweat will come out yellow like bile.
The juice of the root can be absorbed through the nose to purge the head.
Applied with honey to the eyes, it is good for cataracts and eye weakness.
The juice of the squeezed roots is cooked until it thickens like honey. The root purges and cleanses the skin; it cures and prevents blemishes and boils.

Taken alone or with honey, it heals wounds.

As a plaster, it dissolves the spleen; it does good to a sunburned face; and it makes hair grow again.

The decoction is good for dislocated limbs, gout, head ulcers, and chilblains. The old oil in which the root was fried makes ulcers heal. One can make a hole in the root and fill with oil and cook it on hot ashes. Sometimes they add Tirrenian wax so that it becomes similar to an oint-ment, especially effective with chilblains.
Somebody says that mashed into a paste it can be used as a love potion.
Centuries later, Gerard in his Herbal says - 'it is reported to me by men of good credit, that cyclamen or sow-bread groweth upon the mountains of Wales; on the hills of Lincolnshire and in Somerset-Shire. Being beaten and made up into trochisches, or little flat cakes, it is reputed to be a good amorous medicine to make one love, if it be inwardly taken'.

In modern herbals, Cyclamen are described as a 'Self-esteem builder essence', which allows the person to get in touch with their self-esteem and confidence. In addition to this rather vague reference, there are a number of more specific applications:
A homoeopathic tincture is made from fresh tubers and is applied as a liniment externally over the bowels, causing purging.
There is a story that in the past the tubers were baked and made into little flat cakes which were considered a good amorous medicine which caused the person eating them to fall violently in love.
The fresh tubers, bruised, and made into a cataplasm, make a stimulating application to indolent ulcers.
An ointment called 'Ointment of Arthainta' was made from the fresh tubers for expelling worms, and was rubbed on the umbilicus of children and on the abdomen of adultsto cause emesis, and in the region over the bladder to increase urinary discharge.
The popular name 'Sowbread' comes from the fact that the tubers were a source of food for wild boar.

There is a report that Cyclamen are poisonous to cats and fish.
In white magic circles, Cyclamen are listed as a plant which brings happiness.

If you thought from last months 'Plant of the Month entry' Snowdrops have an enthusiastic following, then you haven't seen anything yet! Pay a visit to The Cyclamen Society's Website at http://www.cyclamen.org where you will find out everything you could ever wish to know about Cyclamen (including some fascinating reports of expeditions to locate a particular speciman).
You can also read the reports by clicking here. They are highly recommended reading.

So there you have it, folks. The not-so-humble Cyclamen coum and friends. Come and visit them at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens!


The last word is left to Henry Alford:

Play on, thou little fount of blameless joy,
Freshening our souls through many a weary time;
Gladdening the stately hours of high employ,--
As blest in Britain's mists, as erst in happier clime.

Thanks to:

Gordon Sammons and Sue Brain for inspiration and assistance;
SteveWebb for the fanastic photographs;
and The Cyclamen Society.

For the full text of On a Cyclamen by Henry Alford, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Another brilliant "Plant of the Month" feature Graham. Some great photos and I love the vintage birthday postcard. I don't think I shall be trying any of the medicinal cures!! but I've certainly learnt a lot about cyclamen!