47 (July 1980)
The immense, diverse world of begonias
There is a begonia for just about any growing
condition short of a lightless closet.
Begonia vitilolia will grow as tall as a house,
while B. prismatocarpa is a creeping 2-inch plant. Many hybrids in
the semperflorens classification take full sun, but B. pavonina
requires deep shade. B. grandis ssp. evansiana is cold
hardy, while B. versicolor requires the contained atmosphere of a
The plant genus Begonia probably is more
diverse than any other. More than 2,000 species and cultivars are grown
today for foliage as well as flowers, and additional species are being
discovered and cultivars developed each year.
A great number are easy to grow -- others are
challenges requiring special potting mixes, high humidity, just-right
light, terrariums, temperature control, or an unusual fertilizer
To make it easier to know how to treat them, begonia
hobbyists classify begonias so that those with similar growth habits and
requiring similar care are grouped together. This horticultural
classification system -- different from the way systematic botanists
classify plants -- was pioneered by several early plantsmen, compiled by
ABS, and refined by Mildred and Edward Thompson of Southampton, N.Y., in
their Thompson Begonia Guide. Millie was named ABS' classification
chairman in 1980.
The main classes of begonias are cane-like, Rex
Cultorum, rhizomatous, Semperflorens Cultorum, shrub-like, thick-stemmed,
trailing-scandent, and tuberous. (Don't worry if some terms seem
cumbersome. They'll be second nature to you in no time.)
We don't use -- and we want to discourage -- such
misnomers as "fibrous begonias," " wax begonias," and "bedding begonias."
We don't even talk about "watermelon begonias" or "strawberry begonias,"
which aren't begonias at all.
Besides knowing the classes, accomplished begonia
collectors make it a point to use proper names. The right name ensures
that when you mention a begonia to a hobbyist anywhere in the world, he or
she will know what you mean.
Every begonia you own should be labeled with the
correct name. A species name is not capitalized -- as in the example
Begonia schmidtiana, which can be shortened to B.
schmidtiana. Cultivars (cultivated varieties) are labeled with the
genus name plus the cultivar name, which is capitalized and enclosed in
single quotes: B. 'Ricky Minter'. Some species have varieties:
B. conchifolia var. rubrimacula.
Be careful to use the single quotation marks and
capital letters only for cultivars. Cultivar names are almost always in a
modern language, usually English, while species are named in Latin.
When you became interested in begonias, you joined a
long line of enthusiasts dating back three centuries. The name
Begonia was first used by plant explorer Charles Plumier for the
six species he discovered in the West Indies in the 1690s. The name
honored botany patron Michel Begon, a French government official who
arranged Plumier's trip.
in the 18th and 19th centuries, begonias grew to be
popular house and conservatory plants in Europe and America. Introduction
of bold-leaved B. rex into cultivation and hybridizing in the
mid-1800s boosted interest in begonias as foliage plants.
Today, people grow begonias in the house, under
fluorescent lights, under semi-shady patio covers, in the ground, in
greenhouses -- anywhere they can find space. Keep reading and you will
find out how you can, too.
Eight begonias representing the
diversity of the genus came from the collection of Joan Coulat of
Sacramento, CA. Arranged and photographed by Chuck Anderson and Karen
Clockwise from the upper left:
- B. 'Gene Daniels'
- B. 'It'
- B. bowerae var. nigramarga
- B. metachroa
- B. species ex Kew
- B. polygonoides
- B. 'Clara Elizabeth'
- B. 'Purple Petticoats'(center)