Plant of the month: ivy-leaf cyclamen

Here’s the twist on spiralling stems as the woodland floors glam up for months

Come late summer, the woodland floor starts to brighten up. Previously-bare areas spring into colour as white, pink and occasionally almost purple flowers emerge, with pink little mouths, flinging their petals behind them. What we have here are weeks of colour from Cyclamen hederifolium.

At RHS Garden Wisley, the ivy-leaved cyclamen (from the Latin for ivy – Hedera and leaf – folium), as it’s commonly known, generally flowers from August to November. That’s a remarkable time for anything to flower, and makes it highly prized. If you walk through Howard’s Field or the Pinetum, you’ll see broad carpets of pink and white beneath the Scots pine trees. If you walk up to Weather Hill Cottage past the Alpine Meadow, your journey will be accompanied by their dainty nodding heads. Up on Battleston Hill, the hydrangeas and actaeas sit side by side with these little beauties, set off by spotty Pulmonaria foliage as the leaves on the trees above them gradually change colour and fall. As a bonus, you might enjoy a subtle scent.

One special group of these plants is on the Seven Acres side of the Pinetum – you can’t miss the dark colour (or the length of its name) of Cyclamen hederifolium var. hederifolium f. hederifolium ‘Ruby Glow’, but it’s a real beauty.

Leaves like snowflakes

So, longevity and reliability of flowering are two attributes of these perennial tuberous plants. Another is their pretty leaves, alluded to already by their common name. Like snowflakes, they are all different – mainly heart-shaped, some are decorated with lacy patterns of silver veins, some are almost entirely pewter-coloured, and others greener. These follow on from the flowers, extending the season of interest these plants have right into late winter or early spring. In between times, the pollinated flowers set seed and bring their seeds capsules closer to the ground by twisting the stems into spirals. It’s quite fascinating. And even more intriguing is the fact that cyclamen seeds – brown and sticky – use their sweet coating to attract ants to aid their dispersal. How clever is that?

Cyclamen are generally pretty easy, and if you give them cool shade they’ll do just fine. There isn’t just one month that this plant would be a fitting 'Plant of the Month' for, and it certainly looks good in October… and January… and August…

More information

RHS Advice: read more about hardy cyclamen

This plant is also available online from the RHS Plant Shop

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