And so we come to Number 1. The plant that has been chosen by more members than any other to be in their Top 5 ‘Couldn’t-Do-Without Plants’ is – Cyclamen coum.
It might be small in stature – it is the smallest plant in our Top 30 – but it’s certainly big on character. It flowers during the harshest part of the year and puts up with wind, rain, snow and frost. It can survive being covered in snow for weeks and quickly throws off the effects of frost as soon as the temperature rises. It provides welcome colour at the dullest time, in glorious drifts if you have the room to let it spread.
The leaves are kidney-shaped to rounded or heart-shaped and can be plain green or marbled with silver. The flowers are variously described as dumpy, tubby, chubby or squat – I think we get the picture! – with almost round petals. They range in colour from white, through pink to magenta with a blotch at the base of each lobe and a paler ‘eye’. The leaves appear in the autumn and are fully developed before winter sets in. The buds nestle under the leaves for many weeks and then expand to bloom in the new year. It is happy in partial shade in a well-drained soil under deciduous shrubs and trees.
Cyclamen coum grows in the wild around the Black Sea, from Bulgaria through northern Turkey to the Caucasus Mountains, with a southern outlier in south-east Turkey south to Lebanon and Israel. It is very variable in the wild, with many subtle variations of flower and leaf size and colour across its range.
In cultivation it also covers a wide range of forms, some of which have been selected and named for a particular characteristic. So we can choose silver, pewter or plain leaves, crimson, magenta or pure white flowers and just about anything in between. And they will self sow. Generally, they don’t self-pollinate so Graham Rice advises buying two plants as near identical as possible so that, when they cross, the seedlings are most likely to be similar. Assuming, of course, that that is what you want. You might prefer a tapestry of different colours and patterns, in which case, you can put distinctly different forms together and watch what happens.
And so to the name – Cyclamen coum. We saw in our Top 30 Number 11, Cyclamen hederifolium, that cyclamen is from the Greek, kyklos, circle. Most references state that coum means, from the island of Cos in the Aegean Sea. However, Cyclamen coum does not grow on Cos! How did this error occur? Apparently, coum can also mean ‘from Coa’. Coa was the name used for the eastern area of Celicia, an ancient region in what is now eastern Turkey, where, importantly, Cyclamen coum does grow.
Cyclamen coum is one of the treasures of the winter garden that no one should be without and, obviously, our members agree wholeheartedly. They have put this at the very top of our Top 30.