Cyclamen hederifolium

Corsican hellebore, varegated hosta, Dryopteris fern, hardy cyclamen

Friend to Enemy? Or Frenemy? Hardy Cyclamen

I was delighted years ago when ivy-leaved cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) established itself in my garden. It has so many good qualities: blooms in early autumn and produces beautifully marked leaves that last all winter. It’s summer dormant and therefore drought tolerant. It’s essentially a trouble-free plant with no bad qualities.

Hardy cyclamen blooms with ferns and fallen leaves
Drifts of pink flowers in early autumn

Until now…

In the past few years, this cyclamen has become rampant in parts of my garden. From a modest patch, to several modest patches, to total cover in a few areas. I don’t know if it’s because of climate change, or if once there are enough plants in a particular spot they somehow conspire to spread. Maybe there are more ants these days. Ants like the coating on the seeds and lug them to their nests, which helps to spread the seeds around.

The cyclamen plants go dormant by May and are not seen again until the fall, but in late winter their fleshy leaves are at their peak size. In places where they cover the ground solidly, any early sprouting bulbs and perennials are shaded and constricted.

hardy cyclamen foliage
The leaves sprout in October and last until April or May.

The internet tells me this plant is considered invasive in some places, and some gardeners now consider it a “thug.” Last week I got that “something must be done” feeling and went out with a trowel to investigate. I dug up three tubers in a spot where a mat of dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus “Nana”) had almost disappeared under a mass of cyclamen leaves. Two of those tubers were huge–the size of hamburger buns!

Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus "Nana")
Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
Cyclamen hederifolium tubers and leaves
Cyclamen tubers and leaves
Cyclamen hederifolium tuber with coiled flower stems and seed pods
Cyclamen flower stems with seed pods

Digging up the tubers was relatively easy, but I have no plans to excavate the entire area where cyclamen are taking over. For one thing, I certainly don’t want to get rid of them altogether. For another, there are perennials in those spots that haven’t sprouted out yet and I don’t want to disturb them.

So I’ve thought up a Cyclamen Management Policy:

  • Where the cyclamen are impinging on other plants (the mondo grass, some ferns, and a few others), I will remove the leaves in early March instead of leaving them until they die down naturally. This may weaken some of the cyclamen plants, which may make them less pushy.
  • I will also take care to remove some of the curly flower stems and seed pods before the pods ripen and burst. There are zillions of them, so I won’t be able to get to all of them, but if I take out the ones in spots of concern, surely that will help.
  • I will remind myself why I like this plant, and manage it for optimum effects (geez, that sounds corporate!)

As for those bun-sized tubers, I felt bad about digging them up. They must have been happy there, and were certainly full of life. So I planted them in an outlying corner of the garden. If they take hold there, fine. If not, I’ll never know.

Frenemies. You have to know how to deal with them.

Familiar scene of rustic bench near the pond in autumn (fall) with hardy cyclamen and hostas
Cyclamen definitely have a place in this garden.