The Garden Library at RHS Garden Wisley is hosting a rare opportunity to see original botanical artworks on loan from the Cyclamen Society. The twenty five portraits on display feature in the recently published Genus Cyclamen: Science, Cultivation, Art and Culture  edited by Brian Mathew which also has on its cover this digital image of a 17th C  engraving from Naawkeurige beschryving der aardgewassen by Abraham Munting (1696)

Cyclamen print
© Martin Denney

As part of my work as a volunteer in the library I was given this wonderful tome of c. 600 pages and asked to provide a couple of descriptive lines on each of the paintings which would be used as a crib sheet for visitors to the exhibition.


In so few words there was little point in describing the plants so beautifully depicted in the paintings, but an explanation of the species epithet for each of the plants seemed a reasonable ‘hook’ for each nugget of information.

According to the Oxford dictionary an epithet is ‘an adjective or phrase expressing a quality or attribute regarded as characteristic of the person or thing mentioned’.  In the binomial system used for plant identification the first part of the name refers to the genus and the second part, the epithet, to the species and the convention is that both of these parts are written in italics.

These paintings by Christabel King and Pandora Sellars are on show until the 30th March, covering both the spring Cyclamen show on March 29th  at the Hillside Events Centre, RHS Garden Wisley and the Wisley Spring Plant Fair on 21-23rd March.

Cyclamen epithets

coum may mean ‘from Coa, a version of the name Cilicia,  the ancient name of the coastal region of Asia Minor.
elegans – elegant
parviflorum – refers to the small flower
alpinum – a misleading descriptor as this species has been recorded from sea level up to 1600m
balearicum – indicates the wide distribution in the Balearic islands
creticum – distribution in Crete and Karpathos
repandum – refers to the wavy leaf margin
rhodium – distribution in Rhodes
vividum – refers to the bright, vivid flower colour
colchicum – wild distribution in the Colchis region of the Black Sea
cilicium – from the ancient Roman region of Cilicia, now southern Turkey
intaminatum – meaning untainted refers to the plain unmarked flowers
mirabile – wonderful; chosen by Friedrich Hildebrand when he first described this species
cyprium – from Cyprus and this is the Cypriot National flower
hederifolium – ivy shaped leaf
confusum – refers to the similarity to C. hederifolium although genetically distinct
africanum – wild distribution in Algeria and Tunisia
graecum – from Greece
candicum – white flowers
rohlfsianum – from Friedrich Rohlfs who collected the type specimen of this species
pseudibericum – means that it is not C. ibericum, a synonym for C. coum
– in the wild this species is found in a small arean of the Lebanese mountains
persicum – suggests origins in Persia (Iran) although the wild origins are unknown
purpurascens – relates to the rosy pink or reddish purple colour of the flower

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