by Charles Henthorne
Over 30 years ago, when I first started to grow begonias, I heard about one of Leslie Woodriff’s hybrids called B. “Pink African Violet”.
It was described to me as very similar in appearance to a large leaved African Violet, and had multiple bloom stems on it when it bloomed. Since I grew African Violets at the time also, I wanted to find this one to add to my begonia collection. Thus began a long, interesting hunt for a specimen of this plant. Little did I realize that it would take me 30 years to find it.
Over the years, I asked many people if they had heard of it, or if they knew where I could get a start. I always came up empty handed. Finally, a year ago, I obtained a leaf, and immediately stuck it in one of my smaller terrariums. I waited——and waited——and waited, and then waited some more, for new little plantlets to show themselves. Finally after 6 to 7 weeks a small cluster of new growth showed itself above the growing medium. My adventure had started. After 3-4 weeks, I removed the mother leaf and placed my treasure into a little larger terrarium and immediately stuck the leaf down in its home again. The small plant took off and has become a spectacular addition to our collection. It has been in constant bloom and, as one of the photos shows, it has many bloom stems on the plant. Much to my surprise, what started out as a small to medium leafed plant, has become a very large specimen. Its leaves rival that of the largest leaved African Violet that I have seen. Also its deep pink blooms could stand beside the African Violet blooms, and win the prize. The leaves are quite thick and succulent feeling, and we have been very careful not to let water, or condensation, or fallen blooms rest on them for any length of time.
Growing it in a terrarium has turned out to be the right move, at least in our environment, in Texas. It seems to like the very high humidity, and the mixture of 1/2 long strand sphagnum peat and 1/2 perlite that we use. Indeed, it has thrived beyond my wildest dreams. It has turned out to be one of my very favorite hybrids. When I started look for information on it for this article, I approached June Coulat, who knew Leslie Woodriff personally, for any information she might give me. She remembered growing it in the late 1970s, but has not had it for many years. The earliest reference I could find on it was the date 1978 when my good friend, Millie Thompson, mentioned it in her book, THE BEGONIAN, and catalog. It seems that Woodriff did not register it. June also told me about Leslie’s famous bottle, which he painted black, and used for pollination of his begonias. The parent plants of B. “Pink African Violet” are listed as B. socotrana, and B. herbacea.
The largest leaf so far is a little over 6 inches long and 4.5 inches wide. The longest bloom stem is over 6 inches long. The female blooms open first with the male blooms being somewhat longer to open. It is classed as tuberous, cheimantha-like deep pink; everblooming; profuse begonia. The definition of cheimantha is “a hybrid winter blooming begonia grown for its many dark pink flowers.” After seeing my mature plant blooming I can certainly agree with that definition. The synonym ‘Christmas Begonia’ is also quite appropriate, as it first started to bloom around Christmas time.
We are anticipating showing this great plant in Houston at the 2008 Convention. We look forward to having others view this little known but great looking begonia.