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Hardy cyclamen: Its delicate appearance hides its toughness

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Courtesy of Gene Bush

(Read caption) Hardy cyclamen, a pretty perennial plant for shade gardens, is known for its silver and green leaves.

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Shortly after the official first day of fall, hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) welcomes the season in my shade gardens. I may miss the shift in seasons on my paper calendar, but a walk in the garden, and the sight of my cyclamen in bloom, is my best reminder.

Sad to say, when I visit other gardens in my area at this time of the year, I seldom see hardy, or ivy leaf, cyclamen. It must simply be a lack of awareness of this jewel of shade gardens. The species and named seed strains are numerous, so there is no lack of variation on this theme to choose from.

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The Ivy-shaped leaves [see photo at top] are highly variable, and named strains are bred for leaf patterns and colors. The deep-green leaves often have markings of silver or pewter in patterns. I enjoy the ones with a deep green "Christmas tree" pattern surrounded by splash of silver that returns to polished green along the margins.

Leaves can emerge same time as the blooms or just after. Blooms are found at the end of trailing stems that have their beginnings underground. Stems and roots emerge from the top of the tuber.

The reflexed petals have a dark spot at the nose, which is pointed toward the mulch. Blooms colors are in shades of pink and white. [See photo at left.]

One tough plant

Tubers break dormancy in October, and while blooms last only for a couple of weeks, the colorful foliage persists undamaged through late spring. There is much to be said for a plant that can persist through a Midwest winter, providing a show for my bundled-up walks in the garden.

As if beauty alone were not enough to recommend this jewel, it does best where many other plants wilt away. Complaining about dry shade? My cyclamen grow in a raised bed beneath a circle of pine trees that have filled the bed with roots. In another area I have tubers in the root system of a dwarf hemlock that is located beneath a mature cedar tree.

And hardy cyclamen are hardy into Zone 5 .

Placement and companions

Since they are small plants, hardy cyclamen make great displays when used in multiples. I prefer drifts at the base of shrubs, along rocky ledges, and in between stones, so they will not be disturbed when dormant.

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Ferns (of your choice) and yellow-white corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca) would make perfect companion plants.


Gene Bush, a nationally known garden writer, photographer, lecturer, and nursery owner, gardens on a shaded hillside in southern Indiana. His website is He also writes the Garden Clippin's Newsletter. To read more by Gene here at Diggin' It, click here.