TIDBITS Blog Archives

The Cyclamen: A Delicate Yet Resilient Beauty

In a novel I am currently writing, the cyclamen flower plays a colorful and symbolic role. Through its uncanny resilience, the cyclamen is considered a symbol of sincere love and hope. In the book, the flower’s special messages become evident to the characters—and to the reader.

The cyclamen’s delicate beauty belies its strength and resilience. It is a perennial that can be found, depending on location, in white and in shades of fuchsia, pink, and red. It especially thrives in cool weather. Deep underneath the flowers and leaves, the water-retaining tuber allows it to withstand harsh conditions. When summer arrives, it may appear to have died. However, it is usually simply dormant. After hiding all summer, it reappears in autumn as the weather cools.


It is an appropriate flower to give at occasions of departure, like retirement or moving, as the individual may yet return. This flower has long been regarded as symbolic of sincere, deep love. And, as in true love, even a long separation does not lead to the demise of the relationship.

The supple stems of the cyclamen bend gracefully to lead the fruit toward the earth during the setting, which is the process of the fruit’s formation. Reminiscent of a mother bending toward her young children, the cyclamen also symbolizes maternal love, a theme that runs through my upcoming novel.

Though the cyclamen has been exported to numerous far-flung locales, it is native to the east Mediterranean, notably Cyprus and Israel. In 2006, the Cyprus cyclamen was designated the national flower of Cyprus. In 2007, Cyclamen persicum (Hebrew: rakefet) was elected the national flower of Israel. Though it grows wild all over the country, it is especially colorful in the north, where it thrives in the cool climate of the mountainous Golan region.

In 2013, Anemone coronaria became Israel’s national flower, slightly edging out the cyclamen in a new national poll. However, a special love and affinity for the cyclamen endures among the people of Israel, who identify with its extraordinary resilience. A young German tourist, writing in her college newspaper, may have said it best:

I was comforted and encouraged by a small flower which grows across Israel. Cyclamen . . . is known to thrive in harsh conditions, and stands as a symbol of the Israeli people. Israel has long endured . . . harsh conditions. Yet, time after time, the people continue to persevere, and hold true to their ethnicity and religion. Despite the pain of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, or the bombs that threaten the people of Israel today, the Israeli people stand their ground. My ten days in Israel brought perspective to my life, as now I am inspired to live my life as a cyclamen—thriving under harsh conditions.

Christa Lavoie

A wide array of locations within Israel provides the primary setting for my novel. Against this backdrop, my main characters face heartrending challenges. Yet, like the resolute cyclamen, they live not only to survive, but to thrive.


  1. “List of National Symbols of Israel,” Wikipedia
  2. “The National Plant of Cyprus,” The Press and Information Office of Cyprus
  3. Christa Lavoie, “Living Like a Cyclamen Flower: What Israel Taught me About Resilience,” in The Collegian, January 17, 2019
  4. Connor Lowry, “Fun Flower Facts: Cyclamen,” Grower Direct Fresh Cut Flowers, August 26, 2012
  5. “Flower of Love, Flower of Art,” https://www.cyclamen.com/en/consumer/find-out-about-cyclamen/cyclamen-stories/flower-of-love-flower-of-art

Music of the Islands

In my story, “Monique’s Melody,” the elderly Dr. Whitaker plays his ukulele for hours on end as he imagines his life with his wife, long before in Hawaii. As his daughter explains to her prospective employee, her parents had learned to play the ukulele on an extended Hawaiian vacation during their retirement. When we think of the ukulele and its sweet, mellow sounds, we typically imagine the Hawaiian islands. However, this iconic instrument evolved from a similar instrument first seen on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Let’s take a look at—and an imaginary listen to—the history of the ukulele and how it became the instrument dreamed of by people the world over.

The ukulele has a storied history. Its roots can be traced to Portugal, particularly the island of Madeira. In the nineteenth century, Madeira boasted rich woodlands and was known for its vineyards, its wooden furniture industry, and its manufacture of fine musical instruments, notably the braguinha or machete de braga, crafted of wood from locally grown trees. Late in the nineteenth century, a series of natural disasters destroyed much of the woodland, severely curtailing the island’s previously thriving industries. Now there were a great many able-bodied men in Madeira who lacked the livelihoods they had come to rely on. They didn’t have to search long to find work, as right around that time (in the 1870s), the burgeoning sugarcane industry in the Hawaiian islands required many more workers to labor on its plentiful plantations.

Many Portuguese men began arriving in Hawaii, along with their families. On August 23, 1879, three woodworkers, Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, and Jose do Espirito, along with musician Joao Fernandes, arrived in Honolulu Harbor. Upon their arrival, Fernandes sang a thanksgiving song as he strummed the machete. 

The Hawaiians fell in love with the music. So impressed with how the Portuguese musician’s fingers seemed to leap over the strings so quickly, they nicknamed the instrument the “ukulele,” which means “jumping flea” in Hawaiian. Once in Hawaii, the machete evolved into the original ukulele; it changed in size and shape and was tuned to make it easier to play as it developed its distinctive ukulele sound. The Hawaiian king, David Kalakauna, was one of the Hawaiians who adored the sounds of the ukulele. King David’s royal imprimatur made the ukulele part of the Hawaiian musical tradition. Not long after, his sister, Queen Lydia Lili’uokalani (who composed “Aloha ʻOe”) declared it the official national instrument of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The queen’s interpretation of the name “ukulele” was “a gift from afar,” in recognition of the Portuguese who journeyed to Hawaii with their musical instruments.

In 1915, the Pan Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco, California. Jonas Kumulae, a recognized Hawaiian ukulele maker, presented his prized instrument to the crowds of mainlanders; this led to the world’s first “uke” craze outside of Hawaii. This segued into the ukulele’s prominence in the early Jazz Age. Throughout the 1920s, the uke was in great demand by amateur players; uke chord tablature was used in published sheet music for popular songs. People loved the music and its association with the celebrated islands of Hawaii.

Beatles George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon were fond of the ukulele; they were all proficient players. Tony Award winner Tessie O’Shea was a British ukulele player who appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show the night the Beatles debuted in 1964. Though its popularity began to wane somewhat in later decades, the ukulele enjoyed a revival beginning in the 1990s. Ukulele sales have been catapulted in recent years to an all-time high.

The humble ukulele, with its sweetly mellow sounds, once again has found its rightful place in the hearts of so many—like Dr. James Whitaker—who appreciate the musical treasure embodied in the magical Hawaiian Islands.


  1. “Ukulele: History, Fun Facts, and Benefits of Learning,” Stage Music Center
  2. Brie Adams,“Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Ukulele,” May 21, 2015
  3. Sandor Nagyszalanczy, “The Birth of the Ukulele,” May 27, 2015
  4. “Ukulele,” Wikipedia