I've always enjoyed cyclamens, especially as a Valentine's Day flower, but haven't seen any in their natural habitats. We'll have to visit Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, North Africa, etc. some day!
Florist cyclamens have always struck me as gorgeous, but difficult plants to keep indoors in the winter (they don't seem to like heat, drafts, or excessive water). But I knew about hardy cyclamens (we have patches of them in the Garden) -- they're C. hederifolium, although a relatively unassuming variety.
So seeing beautiful window boxes full of cyclamens in Southern Italy this December was surprising. They were one of the most abundant winter 'bedding plants' -- and definitely striking and in colors ranging from red to white.
A question in a program yesterday (about winter interest in the garden) got me thinking about the hardiness of cyclamens, and what species the ones we saw in Italy were, and why we aren't using them here in the Southern U.S. (it was certainly cold in Southern Italy, although I'm not sure about how common frosts are, etc.) My program participant had seen them used extensively in Houston, Texas, which must have a few freezing days each year.
In poking around the vast library that the web represents, I learned that there are ~ 20 species of Cyclamen, which vary a good deal in their hardiness. And I just now noticed that C. hederifolium is found in native habitats in Apulia (the region where Lecce is located). C. hederifolium is apparently quite easy to grow, and is certainly a winter-hardy species here.
An addendum-- there are LOTS of C. hederifolium varieties, which are commonly grown throughout Europe, as this book excerpt suggests.