The cyclamen's hidden pollinators
The Persian cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) is one of the best known and most beloved plants in Israel. Cyclamens are currently blooming all over the garden, mainly in rockeries.
The genus Cyclamen contains 23 species, most of which occur in Europe and around the Mediterranean basin. Only two of them can be found in Israel – the Persian cyclamen is common mainly in the Mediterranean habitats, while the round-leaved cyclamen (Cyclamen coum), a rare species, occurs in a few populations in the Upper Galilee and the northern Golan Heights. The flower has a unique structure, appearing to be upside down, with its petals folded backwards, the flower center pointing down, and the reproduction organs hidden in a tubular structure at its lowest tip. This structure protects the delicate stigma and stamens from the rain, as the cyclamen blooms during the rainy winter time. Similarly shaped flowers, including other Cyclamen species, are usually pollinated by large bees, performing "buzz pollination"- an intentional buzzing that shakes the lower parts of the flower and causes pollen release. Surprisingly, a study conducted at the Department of Plant Science by Racheli Schwartz-Zahor and Prof. Dan Eisikowitch, has revealed the existence of several other pollinators of the Persian cyclamen in Israel. The most important of these are the few species of golden tiny moth, only a few millimeters long, of the genus Micropterix. These moths belong to an ancient group of moths that consume pollen, and are considered to be “living fossils” – a group of which most of its members have long been extinct. The moths enter the flower tube in order to consume the pollen and thus transfer it from one flower to another. Now is the perfect time to enjoy the cyclamen blooming in the garden, and to try to spot the golden tiny moths flying nearby.
Persian cyclamen, Photo: Moshe Peri