The humble cyclamen

The bulb itself is poisonous and contains the chemical cyclamin. It is this poison that protects the bulb from being eaten by animals.

Cyclamen (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)

The Cyclamen persicum – one of two species found in Israel – is part of a family of 23 species that grows in Europe and the Mediterranean basin. It is a perennial plant that can live multiple seasons and is to be found during the winter months in many places, such as on the Golan Heights, near the Ayit waterfall, in the Ben-Shemen Forest and in the Carmel Forest.

The cyclamen grows from an underground tuber (bulb).
The shape of the bulb often grows irregularly due to the pressure of nearby rocks.
The bulb itself is poisonous and contains the chemical cyclamin (which gave the plant its name). It is this poison that protects the bulb from being eaten by animals.
Throughout the hot Israeli summer the plant lies dormant, saving its growth energy by hiding underground from the elements. In autumn, heart-shaped leaves grow straight out from the tuber.
The leaves are decorated with a silvery pattern on their upper side, giving a nice bonus to plant lovers.
Interestingly, every plant has leaves with a unique pattern that differs one from each other, like human fingerprints. Separate from the leaves, the flowers come out also from the bulb. The upper part of the flower stem develops a bend, or curve, of 180º towards the soil, so that the top of the flower faces downwards. To compensate, the five petals bend back up to give the familiar crown shape of the cyclamen. Each flower lives around three weeks and the plant keeps producing new flowers for more than six months.
One of many legends about the cyclamen tells that the crown of King Solomon was fashioned after the shape of the flower.
The color of the cyclamen can range in shade from light to deep pink, which helps to attract insects, but the complex shape of the flower makes pollination somewhat difficult since the opening is upside down.
There is, however, a moth that has learned to deal with this strangely shaped flower.
The moth approaches the cyclamen from below and creates a high-frequency buzz with its wings that shakes the pollen down from the flower. This special method is called “buzz pollination.”
The plant recognizes the problem of pollination and thus stays flowering for more than six months to improve its chances of success. Our cyclamen is fairly common but still a protected flower all over Israel to enjoy and not to pick.