Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Persian Cyclamen

The Persian cyclamen, is a non-indigenous flowering plant that was introduced in the Maltese islands as a garden plant. It has become naturalised in some old gardens and cemeteries.
 It is native to parts of Turkey south to Israel and Jordan. It can also be found in Algeria and Tunisia as well as on some Greek islands where it was probably also introduced. The species is very popular with gardeners and many varieties have been developed.
 Wild plants flower in winter and early spring but varieties have been created which flower in autumn. The flowers are pink with a dark pink or magenta ring at the base of the upturned petal. The colours of the flowers of cultivated varieties range from white to dark pink.
 There are 23 species of cyclamen. Many are indigenous to the Mediterranean. Some species can be found in parts of Europe outside the Mediterranean area while a small number extend east as fareast as Iran and one species can be found as far south as Somalia.
 The flowers of the different species are very similar in shape and to tell them apart one needs to look at the shape of the leaves.
 Cyclamens are herbaceous perennials. Cyclamens have tubers which help them survive the hot dry Mediterranean summers. The tuber puts out leaves in autumn. By the end of spring the plants would have produced seeds and the leaves have completely dried up.
 The seeds have a sugary coating which makes them attractive to ants and other small insects which carry them away to their nests. They eat the sweet covering and discard the seeds. The ants help the plant by taking the seeds to other spots away from the plant and help it to disperse and colonise new areas.
 The name cyclamen probably comes from an ancient Greek word from which we have the old Latin word cyclaminos which refers to the round shape of the tuber.
 In Maltese it is called ċiklamina.
 In many languages cyclamens have colloquial names which refer to the fact that the plant is eaten by pigs. In English it is sowbread, in Italian pan porcino and in Fench  pain de pourceau

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 12 March 2014.

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