x0x Wild Cyclamens
* By Neriman Özhatay
Turkey is the gene centre for the wild cyclamen, which means that although
this Mediterranean bulb is found throughout the Mediterranean (apart from
Spain, Egypt and Tunisia), no other country has so many different species.
Of the twenty species in the world, ten grow wild in Turkey, and six of
these are endemic species found nowhere else. The name cyclamen was given
to these flowers by the Greek philosopher and scientist Theophrastus, a
student of Plato and close friend of Aristotle. He lived between 371 and
287 BC and established botany as a science. The name cyclamen is derived
from the ancient Greek cyclos, presumably in reference either to the
globular tuber, the heart-shaped leaves, or the coiling shape of the
pedicel carrying the fleshy seedpod.
Cyclamens, which today are a common house and garden plant found most of
the year in Turkish florists, were first cultivated in France in 1731, and
today there are around two hundred cultivated varieties. An account of the
cultivation of the cyclamen entitled La Cultivazione del Ciclamino was
published in 1991 by an Italian botanist, G. Rampinini. The wild ancestor
of cultivated varieties is the species Cyclamen persicum, meaning Persian
cyclamen, although it does not in fact grow in Iran. Instead it is a
native of south and southwest Turkey, Cyprus, western Syria, Lebanon and
Europe made the acquaintance of many bulbous and tuberous plants from wild
specimens collected from Turkey, including the tulip, hyacinth and madonna
lily as well as the cyclamen, which was taken to Europe via Ýstanbul and
Ýzmir. With the advance of horticultural techniques many new varieties
were developed. One of the most popular is Apple Blossom created in 1948
which has large pink blooms, and other favourites are a group named after
composers such as Lizst and Chopin. The foremost countries of commercial
cyclamen production are Holland, Germany and Italy.
As the country with the greatest number of wild and endemic cyclamen
species, Turkey is the source of most of the wild plants sold
commercially. For nearly a century the tubers have been gathered in the
wild and exported. The bulbs are gathered by local people in south and
southeast Turkey and find their way, mainly via Holland, to other western
European countries and North America, where they end up in gardens. The
wholesale uprooting of cyclamens and other wild plants led in 1990 to the
passing of legislation to protect wild species, by which the gathering of
wild cyclamen was limited to one and a half million a year.
The most sought-after wild species is the autumn flowering Cyclamen
hederifolium (ivy-leaved sowbread), followed by Cyclamen cilicium (Central
Taurus cyclamen) and the spring flowering Cyclamen coum.
Half of Turkeys wild cyclamens flower in spring and the remainder in
autumn. The spring flowering Cyclamen coum flowers between December and
April. It grows in shady habitats beneath firs, pines, oaks and beeches up
to 2150 m above sea level, and is the species with the widest distribution
and largest number of varieties.
Cyclamen parviflorum, the small flowered cyclamen, blooms in April 2 June
at 1200-2400 m on the fringes of fur, pine and cedar forest. It is a rare
species endemic to northeast Anatolia and its export is forbidden.
Cyclamen trochopteranthum (Muðla cyclamen), a species endemic to southeast
Anatolia, is another rare species whose export is prohibited. Its fragrant
flowers bloom between February and April at between 350-1500 m on the
fringes of red pine (Pinus brutia) and juniper forest, beneath cedar and
storax trees, in stream beds, and on tree roots.
Amanos cyclamen (Cyclamen pseudoibericum) grows at an altitude of 500-1500
m on the fringes of red pine forests, in rock fissures and on tree roots.
This endemic species is one of the loveliest and flowers between March and
May. Due to its limited distribution and endemic character its export is
Persian sowbread or florists cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) flowers between
January and May and grows at a height of 1200 m. This wild species from
which many cultivars were derived has decorative pink and white flowers
and a pleasant fragrance. Its export is forbidden.
Autumn flowering species include the endemic Cyclamen cilicium, whose
export is permitted; Cyclamen hederifolium, which is exported in the
greatest quantities; Cyclamen graecum (Greek sowbread) which has pretty
foliage and flowers; and Cyclamen intaminatum (the unspotted cyclamen) and
Cyclamen mirabile (wonderful cyclamen), both of which are endemic and of
limited distribution, so that it is forbidden to remove them from the
As a flower of such importance for the florists trade and horticulture,
Turkeys wild cyclamens are a precious natural resource which must be
carefully conserved. The same holds for large numbers of other plants
found in Turkey.
The cyclamen has been valued over the centuries for its medical properties
as well as its attractive flowers. The tubers possess emetic, laxative and
stimulant properties, and if taken in excessive amounts cause poisoning
characterised by vomiting and diarrhoea. Pigs are fond of eating the
tubers, hence the colloquial name sowbread.
Cyclamen species and their habitats are increasingly threatened,
particularly by the export trade which has soared since the 1970s. As a
result some endemic and rare species are listed among the wild plants and
animals in the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.
Permission is required under this convention to export listed species, and
export quantities are limited to amounts which will not damage that
species survival in the wild as certified by a committee of experts.
Turkey became a signatory to this convention in 1994, and today cyclamen
exports comply with CITES regulations. For sustainable use of such natural
resources, it is essential first of all to gain knowledge of the species,
and then to set up propagation programmes to meet consumer demand. Only
then can we ensure that future generations will be able to experience the
joy of seeing flowers like the cyclamen in the wild.
* Prof. Dr. Neriman Özhatay is a member of Ýstanbul University Faculty of