The Star of the Ask Desk

If you’ve walked by the Ask Desk lately, chances are you’ve noticed the beautiful, winter-defying flower gracing our library. Maybe you’ve even touched its magnetic petals. Touching the flower is not recommended, I think, but who knows - it could be the momentary warmth of human fingers sustains the flower through these (somewhat, alarmingly not-always) cold winter months. Yilan of Info Services is the flower’s protector and provider. She waters it attentively. She lets me poke its blooms. She has also affixed an identification label on the side of the flower’s pot, though it can be hard to spot through the drooping leaves.

Cyclamen. I wanted to learn a little more about this flower, since I look at it most days and a lot of people ask about it. I tried to look it up in the library’s orchid books, because I read somewhere on Wikipedia that a cyclamen is also known as the “poor man’s orchid”, but none of the indexes have an entry for “cyclamen.” Not The Orchid Whisperer, not All About Orchids, not the Complete Guide to Orchids, not even Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief

So I turn to the internet instead. The Wikipedia editors of the cyclamen page have a lot of fun facts to offer us, which we can choose to believe for now. Cyclamen species “grow from tubers and are valued for their flowers with upswept petals,” for example. Potatoes also grow from tubers, but you'd never mistake a potato for a flower. Cyclamen comes from the Mediterranean region and east of Iran. Cyclamen is often eaten by pigs and so called variations of “sowbread” in Europe. Also, Gothic caterpillars eat cyclamen.

Can we really trust Wikipedia’s cyclamen editors though? Who are they? What do they know about libraries and flowers? The article itself admits it has “multiple issues,” mostly related to not having enough citations, and, just so, I cannot find any supporting evidence for the cyclamen’s primary predators being pigs and caterpillar goths. The article does link to some complicated cyclamen research and several definitions of cyclamen, so it’s confirmed that they come from southern and central Europe and the Middle East. Also, that they have “showy nodding flowers”, which I think characterizes our library flower pretty well.

By far the best outgoing link from cyclamen’s Wikipedia page is to The Cyclamen Society’s website. Fewer than 20 people around Birmingham seem to constitute the Cyclamen Society at present, unfortunately, though their site reports that an Extraordinary General Meeting was held this month. It’s especially unfortunate because the Society is providing much needed specialized information to cyclamen growers around the world, including Kansas City, Missouri! And cyclamen desperation is palpable. Just read these FAQs:

“Please tell me that, although I was negligent and left my potted plant exposed to too much sun one day, it will survive. It continues to wilt and die.”

“Please help me. I’m killing it. A friend gave me a Cyclamen last Sunday and I have already had two leaves turn yellow and die, and three more are turning yellow. I seem to be killing it rather quickly.”

For the sake of all cyclamens in unsuitable climates, I hope the Cyclamen Society persists. The library cyclamen is looking healthy, but if its leaves ever start drooping, we know where to find answers.

So, Wikipedia links to sources, in case you didn’t already know. Wikipedia editors don’t just make things up (all the time. Sometimes they do. You should check the source of fishy information, like the claim that goth caterpillars eat flowers). And the star of the Ask Desk is a flower called a cyclamen. On a related note, there’s a beautiful orchid at Decade, and probably other beautiful orchids abound in private and public Lawrence. If you want an orchid or cyclamen of your own, you could sign up for the library’s upcoming houseplant workshops and ask about them. Or contact the Cyclamen Society.

Plant Life 101: Tuesday, April 14, 6:30-7:30 with Soil Sister Allison Lewis

Repotting 101: Tuesday, April 28, 6:30-7:30 with Soil Sister Allison Lewis

-Hazlett Henderson is an Info Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.