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Begonias add color to your indoor decor

Angelwing begonias
Angelwing begonias
Joy Nord

If you like begonias you are lucky. There is no genus of plants so suitable for indoor and outdoor cultivation that offers such a variety of color and size in flower and in leaf. Furthermore, if you consider purchasing begonias you can easily choose from over fifteen hundred or so species that gives you an array of blossoms and decorative foliage throughout the year.


Begonia enthusiasts date back four centuries. In the 1690s French botanist, Charles Plumier, discovered six unknown plant species in the
West Indies. He named the species to honor botany patron, Michel Begon, the governor of
Santo Domingo
(at that time) who arranged Plumier’s trip. Plumier often named plants such as the lobelia, the magnolia, and the fuchsia after botanist that he admired. Unfortunately while waiting for a boat to take Plumier to Peru, to study quinine extracted from the cinchona tree bark as a potential cure for malaria, he died from pleurisy at Puerto de Santa Maria.   


Not until the nineteenth century, did the begonia grow into a popular house and conservatory plant in
Europe and
.  Around 1865, Richard Pearce found many new sources of begonias in
South America, where he occasionally climbed over twelve thousand feet, without proper equipment, to acquire botanical specimens. However, the unimaginable hardships of Pearce’s explorations, is not what killed him. At the age of thirty, he died from mosquito borne yellow fever in
. Shortly afterwards, Plumier’s quinine was used to treat malaria.


Certain principles can be applied to raising all begonias. They are sensitive to over-and-under watering, must be planted in porous soil, and kept well-drained; but moist during their active (growing and flowering) period. To promote flowers, begonias need plenty of light; but avoid any possibly of scorching from direct sunrays. Temperatures should be above 68 degrees to induce flowering, and need a balanced fertilizer every four weeks.


Begonias are scientifically divided into three groups:  


  1. Tuberous begonias have large underground tubers, which contains some outstanding summer-flowering and winter-flowering species. There are innumerable varieties with single, semi-double or double flowers in almost every color except blue. Some varieties have frilled-edge petals while other varieties are crested petals. These plants have stout, freshly stems about 15 inches high and large, deep green, glossy foliage. The stems and leaves are of annual duration, and die down in the fall. The underground tuber rests in the winter, and then sends up new shoots in the spring. When flowering is over the plant should be dried-off and, as soon as the leaves have dropped, the stems should be gradually twisted off the tuber and discarded. The tubers should be stored in a cool, frost-resistant place. No light is necessary.


  1. Rhizomatous contains primarily the Begonia rex, and others of similar type, valued for their ornamental foliage. Most varieties have short rhizomes or rootstocks from which arise long-stalked, ovate, wrinkled leaves averaging 6 inches in diameter. The leafstalks, the veins, and in some species, the upper surfaces of the leaves are covered with fine hairs. The beautiful leaves are marked with silver and green, light and dark green, red and green, purple and green, and so on, of the different varieties. These also have a dormant period in the winter and should then be allowed to ALMOST dry out.


  1. Fibrous-rooted is the largest group of begonias. It contains numerous coveted species, varieties and hybrids that flower mainly in the summer but also during the winter. Among them are some elegant tall, woody species that has dormant periods after the flowering season. One of the most popular fibrous-rooted is the wax begonia, which is used extensively for spring and summer bedding, and in pots and hanging baskets. These grow about 12 inches high, have rounded evergreen leaves and, according to the variety, bear clusters of pink, white, red or crimson flowers.


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