It was my intention to write about the autumn flowers in Trebah Garden in general but I became totally side-tracked the more I found out about the delightful Cyclamen hederifolium, the jewelled harbingers of the cold season.
We have planted over a thousand corms and you will find them growing under the trees throughout the garden. These plants are exceptionally long lived and grow in the shade of deciduous trees. They are dormant all summer and spring to life with the autumn rain.
The flowers appear before the leaves in order to be pollinated whilst there are still insects around. The flowers are nodding thus protecting their precious pollen from the rain. As the flowers fade the stems curl up and spiral down to ground level. The seed case explodes exposing the seeds which are covered with a starchy coating that changes to sugar - this attracts ants and wasps which carry the seed away ensuring the young plants do not compete with their parents.
If that wasn't ingenious enough, the ivy-shaped leaves (from which it gets its name - hederifolium) are patterned with silver creating a striking marbled effect: this variegation scatters light, reducing the damaging effects of sunflects (brief increase in sunlight usually caused by wind moving branches/leaves) and thus maintains more consistent levels of photosynthesis in the leaf as a whole under varying light conditions. On the undersides of the leaves, rich violet tones help to capture light reflected up from the soil surface.
In addition to the above, the adaptive significance of foliar variegation, although not well understood, has been associated with reduced herbivore damage. I'm sure I've said it many times but millions of years of evolution have created plants totally adapted to their environment and it never ceases to amaze me.