Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Cyclamen


Cyclamen hederifolium (shame about the name)

Damn, the ants have been already. 
They have left one seed!
Hardy cyclamen give ever changing beauty for eight months each year.

On Mount Faeto, overlooking the Bay of Naples, hardy cyclamen are everywhere. They are on grassy verges, cracks in the rocks and in small woods, often in deep shade. What a lovely descriptive name, Cyclamen neapolitanum. So the name gets changed to Cyclamen hederifolium! Ugly, but accurate, it means ‘like an ivy’. 

The cyclamen season starts with August rain. First the seed pods from last year’s flowers push through. Their stalks look like  ‘coiled springs’, we call them zebedees! They take a month or so to ripen and dry. I collect huge amounts of seed and immediately sow them in seed trays, 200 seeds per tray. Not this year, nor last. The ants are getting wise and got there first. The ants are collecting a protein rich material attached to the seed. They do not eat the actual seed, which is later discarded in the ant midden. This makes a perfect seedbed. This symbiotic relationship is called myrmecochory. 

Just like on Faeto, cyclamen grow in the most most unlikely places. I wonder how much their survival depends on their known mycorrhizal associations?
By mid September, and before the leaves emerge, the flowers appear. These naked flowers are beauties in their own right and, if you fall to your knees, can be deliciously scented.

Come October, marbled foliage joins the flowers. They can be enjoyed together for one more month before the flowers give way to the leaves alone. What lovely ground cover the leaves make until May.  Yes, the leaves are the shape of ivy, but ivy as you have never seen it before.

The ants have spread seed everywhere. These seedlings are in Bolton Percy moss.
Skip to the future and read about growing indoor cyclamen outside

11 comments:

  1. I have this species and widely self sown. However almost all my plants have pure white flowers which (luckily) I prefer to the pink. Oddly I have found it much more difficult to establish the spring flowering C. coum in my garden even though it grows well in other peoples.

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    1. Yes, I also love the white ones. I will have to find an excuse to post some pictures!
      My own Cyclamen coum seeds itself quite well but like yours seems to lack vigour. I blame it on my sandy soil. A friend north of York is on heavy clay and his thrives.

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    2. I think you could be right about the clay and C. coum. I also have light soil. C.coum is v. prolific at Harlow Carr and a friend in Walkington village near Beverley also on clay has little trouble with it even in thin grass.

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  2. I also find myrmecochory fascinating. It comes from the Greek for ant (myrmex) and dispersal (kore). The parts attached to these seeds that attract the ants are called elaiosomes, and are rich in fatty acids, amino acids and sugars. They are also often laced with a chemical attractant that stimulates collecting behaviour.

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    Replies
    1. Many wildflowers, especially woodland varieties, have seeds that are dispersed by ants, including wild dicentras like Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and Wild bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia).

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    2. As holder of the national dicentra collection I should know that. Unfortunately I didn't! Thank you Sonja, you have made me look more deeply into this. I have often noticed the white attachments on the shiny black seeds of eximia and some other species. I now presume them to be the elaiosomes that Helen has mentioned. Although I have hundreds of D.cucullaria which flower really well I cannot remember them setting seed for me as they do in the wild.

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  3. I've been growing this variety for many years, and never noticed the similarity to ivy leaves. But now I know, I can see the likeness.

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    Replies
    1. On reflection I think my comments about ivy were a little harsh. It can be a very fine plant particularly when the adult plant flowers. Its nectar and pollen in winter can be very important to insects and the fruits are food for birds

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  4. We have hederafolium growing in the most unlikely of places too - some tubers are now huge.

    I'm just starting off some coum and have a post prepared about it which should go live this week.

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  5. I will look out for your post, Sue

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