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Award-winning green roofs

Now the trees have finally lost their leaves and the smell of frost is in the air as winter sets in in earnest. Yet, you can still find some plants astonishingly flowering on rooftops. The Wild Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederiflium) is about as mixed up a flower as you will see anywhere. It appears to be inside out, as all its petals point backwards round the stem, and can be found flowering at the opposite time of the year then most other flowers.

A native of Europe and the Mediterranean it is a garden escapee which has naturalised across many of the southern counties in the UK, especially Kent and Sussex. It is well suited to roofs as it is low growing, likes to spread out and is comparatively shallow rooting (ideally the bulbs should be planted ~700mm deep). The flowers are fairy-like, consisting of five united petals in white, pink, red or purple with pink being the most common. They are followed by a five-chambered fruit containing sticky seeds which are very attractive to ants, helping to attract invertebrates and adding diversity to rooftop ecosystems. Cyclamen is also a food source for the larvae of the gothic moth (Naenia typica), among many other moths, so is an excellent addition for butterfly gardens and will help attract other night feeding insects. It is mainly pollinated by moths although it is also a food source for thrips, hover flies and small solitary bees.

Its leaves are dark green, variegated and heart shaped and coincidentally the folk lore of this plant mainly refers to matters of the heart and conception. The teachings are somewhat contradictory however, as often with folk law, as on one hand when placed in the bedroom it is said to raise libido and increase fertility, however on the other if you walk over it when you are pregnant then it can cause the baby to abort. It is also the basis of some homeopathic remedies that bring on menstruation when a woman’s cycle is late, but when roasted, crushed into a powder and added to cakes it can make people fall ‘violently in love’. Don’t go trying this though as most information says that cyclamen roots are extremely poisonous to humans, fish and cats although they are a favourite food source for pigs, which is why the plant is also known as sow bread or hogs bread. It was even used as poison for arrowheads at one point some claim, se be warned . . .

In florigraphy (the study of flower meanings for those that didn’t know) the cyclamen stands for resignation and goodbye. How apt that it is flowering now as we experience resignation to christmas madness and get ready to say goodbye to 2014!

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