What is a SPECIES?
Defining a species is difficult even for taxonomists. Technically, it means a natural grouping of similar plants (or organisms) that can interbreed. Usually, a species develops over time when the plant group is isolated, and over many generations the genetics of the plant become distinctive and unique.
A dance of potential for Begonia species
Mutations and natural hybrids are occurring constantly. Over the millennia, new species are always forming and adapting to new habitats. It is a strategy of ecology, including for begonias, to constantly be changing to make use of any openings in an ecosystem where a new plant might have room to develop.
Just look at the geometry of Begonia species with bullate leaves, or brilliant red hairs, silvered patterns and purple black markings. All of these wildly artistic adaptations were made to help the plant adapt to a specific environment.
Beautiful, but also fragile
Begoniaceae is a huge family, with over 2000 species. Each of these species, however, is usually a small population, highly specialized to the habitat it grows in, and fragile in the sense that changes to the habitat can quickly destroy these small populations of begonias.
No one can say exactly why Begonia species develop such amazing leaf coloration and detailed patterning, though it has been suggested that it helps to prevent insects and animals feeding on the plants, or is an adaptation to make the most use of the very small amount of light that penetrates to the forest floor.
How does the American Begonia Society help with conservation?
Begonia species grow in the wild in four out of our seven continents, with new species still waiting to be discovered. The American Begonia Society helps in conservation by:
Growing Begonia species and building seed stock. See “Grow a Species to Save a Species”
Providing funding for research and education including the Begonia Species Bank at Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
Awareness through The Begonian, our bi-monthly journal for members.