Cyclamen coum

Myrsine Family [Myrsinaceae]  
Formerly in: Primrose Family [Primulaceae]

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8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Less than six inches high Cyclamen is a low-growing plant. This species has kidney shaped leaves whereas other Cyclamens do not.

8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
With five lilac coloured petals half-rolled up like a partially un-furled umbrella.

8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The flowers are hung from stems that are curled over at the top. The innermost part of the petals are a much darker purple or beetroot colour, with a rim of white.

8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
White rim and deep purple inner part of petals.

8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Each flower suspended from a single reflexed brownish-red stem similar to old-fashioned lamp-posts. The petals like flags reaching upwards.

8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The brownish-red sepals visible from only one side.

8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
All five petals are bent upwards from the reflexed stem.

8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
From above the five petals take on the form of a steeply-pitched five-bladed ships' propeller.

8th March 2010, Bradshaw Hall, Combes, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are kidney-shaped, with seven major radial veins. The satin-finish on the leaves looks like it can flake off revealing a matt finish underneath. This could be the result of many nights of severe frost or snow and ice which have been prevalent recently.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature : The flower is upside down, doubly reflexed, giving it a unique appearance.

Grows in short grassland in woods and scrub. Can be an escaped garden plant.


Photo: © Angela Stephens

Photo: © Angela Stephens

The leaf has a cycloid shaped perimeter and darker markings within which resemble a leaf. Your Author notes that the combination of cycloid and inner leaf also bear a strong resemblance to a part of the  Mandelbrot Set, a mathematically derived fractal shape, and he ponders if this is just coincidental, or whether there might be some hidden reason for this.

Photo: © Larry One Eye Shone

It is such a remarkably faithful representation of that part of the Mandelbrot set, even down to the curved veins at the back, that your Author wonders whether it is indeed performing those Mandelbrot fractal calculations. Think about it, that is not as far-fetched as it seems. Certainly, cyclamens perform no mathematical computation, but the patterns on leaves are subject to growth and inhibition feedback rules that may approximate to the Mandelbrot calculation rules. Even down to the cardioid outline of the entire leaf outline, which in the Mandelbrot Set itself is an integral part of the pattern. A rather interesting speculation...

It is well known that there are inhibitory and promotory substances in plants that together orchestrate growth in particular ways. Substance A promotes substance B, but substance B inhibits substance A, a feedback arrangement that has large regulatory powers. These positive and negative feedbacks are analogous to those which occur in the Belousov-Zhabotinsky  (B-Z) chemical reaction which continually creates swirling non-repeating and chaotic patterns until the two reagents are used up. The one requirement for oscillation to occur (rather than the two reagents reaching a steady-state resolution) is that there has to be a phase delay of greater than 90 degrees. This is easily achieved by the slow diffusion of reagents across the medium (solvent).

In the case of plants, the reagents are phytoalexins (growth hormones in plants) and phytoalexin inhibitors or antagonists, which regulate each other and thus orchestrate growth and form in plants.

It can be envisaged that the generation of the cardioid shape of the leaf if there were two growth centres. One a radial growth pattern (governed by a radially diffusing reagent). And the other a linear uni-directional component upon which the radial component rides. This growth pattern would generate a cardioid shaped leaf.

If the linear growth component was zero, a leaf with a circular outline (orbicular, as in Marsh Pennywort) is generated. If the radial component is zero, long linear leaves result (needle leaves as in Yew). If the radial component is just slightly less vigorous than the linear growth component, a leaf with a cadioid profile is produced. It should also be noted that what would otherwise be radial veins in an orbicular leaf, become automatically curved in the case of a cardioid-shaped leaf - with the curvature being greatest at right-angles to the linear growth component.

And if the radial component is directional (less in the perpendicular direction than that at right-angles) and the linear component is strong, you end up with longish kidney-shaped leaves (amplexicaul, as in Rape).

Whilst temporal variation of the two components can generate lobes and teeth on the leaves, depending upon the magnitude of the variation. Large lobes if the temporal variation in the relative variation of the two radial components was large, such as the basal leaves of Wild Radish.

By varying the magnitude of just three growth components a whole series of leaf shapes can be generated.


The rhizomes and tubers contain a bitter-tasting poisonous monodesmosidic triterpenoid saponin called cyclamin which is an irritant and toxic substance capable of being absorbed through the skin. Poisoning is rare because the poisonous parts are below ground level and the bitter taste forewarns and inhibits ingestion. It can cause paralysis, and even death. Cyclamin is both fungitoxic and cytotoxic. It is also poisonous to fish, and has been used as a fish poison. The five sugar units it contains are shown in blue. Notice the aldehyde group, CHO, that it contains (constituting another active moiety). It exhibits a very high haemolytic index. Like all saponins, they interfere with the permeability of cell membranes, and as such are cytotoxic.

The aglycone (meaning 'without the sugars', which in the above diagram are shown in blue) of Cyclamin is Cyclamiritin A, shown.

Three saponins, one being isocyclamin, and five sapogenins have been identified in species of Cyclamen. Another triterpenoid saponin, Coumoside A, is found specifically in Eastern Sowbread. Coumoside B is also present.

  Cyclamen coum  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Myrsinaceae  

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Cyclamen coum

Myrsine Family [Myrsinaceae]  
Formerly in: Primrose Family [Primulaceae]

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