Gerald L. Klingaman
Plant Common Name
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Adored for beautiful blooms and wildly colorful foliage, Begonia is one of the largest genera of flowering plants. There are over 1,500 species and more than 10,000 cultivars and hybrids. They are found all over the world but most originate from sub-tropical and tropical regions.
The plants come in many different forms. They are fleshy, herbaceous and may be annual or perennial. In habit, they can be shrubby, climbing, or epiphytic (tree-dwelling). The leaves are simple or compound and usually asymmetrical. Flowers are produced singly or in loose clusters. They may be small and delicate, with just a few petals, or rose-like. Flower color comes in combinations of white, red, pink, yellow and orange. Bloom time varies from species to species.
Culture and hardiness is also species dependent, but most begonias are cold sensitive, prefer bright indirect light and average to fertile, moist soil that drains well. They are beautiful planted in mixed beds and borders, containers or hanging baskets.
Begonias are separated into eight groups defined loosely by parentage, habit and/or culture. These are:
Cane: These evergreen perennials are upright and often woody. They have fibrous roots and bamboo-like stems. Some are commonly known as “angel-wing” begonias.
Shrub: These are bushy and have branching stems and interesting leaves. The plants may be upright and are usually evergreen perennials. They are grown mostly for their attractive leaves.
Rhizomatous: This carefree group of evergreen perennials spread via rhizomes (underground lateral stems). The plants are variable in form and the small flowers usually appear in spring. The leaves may be green or brown and are often variegated with silver markings.
Semperflorens: This is the most widely grown begonia group. The plants are compact, bushy, tender evergreen perennials with fibrous roots. They flower in the summer in cooler climates and throughout the year in warmer zones. Often called wax begonias, they are outstanding bedding plants.
Tuberous: There are two types of tuberous begonias: those with a pendant habit and sturdier more upright types. Most have glossy pointed leaves and very showy flowers. They undergo a dormant period in the fall and winter and bloom in the spring and summer.
Rex: These are grown for their brilliantly hued and extraordinarily shaped leaves. They generally grow from fibrous roots or occasionally rhizomes. The plants tend to go dormant in winter and otherwise require bright indirect light and high humidity.
Trailing: These floriferous weeping plants offer a lovely show of flowers. They undergo winter dormancy but are otherwise everblooming.
Thick-Stem: Less popular that other types, these begonias offer a charm all their own. They have short thick stems topped with dense fleshy leaves. Where hardy, they make fine landscape and outdoor plants.