Begonia is a genus and common name of flowering plants from the family Begoniaceae. Begonias are believed to have originated in Brazil, but some are also found earlier in Mexico and even China.
The name “Begonia” was given by a Franciscan Monk who named it after Michel Begon, a former governor of Haiti (1).
What is a Begonia Plant?
Begonia is one of the largest genera of flowering plants with over 1900 species. They are pantropic plants which means they are found naturally in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, except Australia (1).
Begonias are terrestrial plants. In the wild, they can either grow in stems, rhizomes, or in tubers. Begonia plants have distinct foliage. Their leaves are large and asymmetric with various patterns and prominent venation.
Another distinct feature of begonias is their flowers. Begonias are monoecious, which means the flowers are unisexual with both male and female flowers blooming separately on the same plant.
The flowers have tepals that vary in color depending on the variety. Begonias flower year-round, except some tuberous species (1).
What Are the Different Kinds of Begonia?
Because of their luscious foliage and spectacular blooms, begonias are now popular among gardeners and homeowners alike. They are perfect plants for both indoor and outdoor use.
Most begonias available in garden centers are hybrids between wild types. Ornamental begonias can be foliage or flowering and are categorized in the following groups based on their root structure.
Fibrous-rooted begonias are annual plants that have round and waxy leaves and small flowers.
They are one of the most common ornamental begonias because of their prolific flowering which makes them perfect bedding plants. This group includes cane (angel wing) begonias and wax begonias (Begonia × semperflorens-cultorum) (2).
Some Fibrous Rooted Begonia you might like: Brandy Cocktail, Vodka Cocktail, Irene Nuss
Tuberous Begonia (Begonia × tuberhybrida)
This group is popular for its spectacular rose-like flowers that come in bold pastel colors. They bloom annually every midsummer to winter. Tuberous begonias are perfect either as bedding or container plants (2).
Some Tuberous Begonia you might like: Dragon Wing series, Hanging Basket series
Rhizomatous Begonia (Rex Begonia)
Rhizomatous Begonias are herbaceous plants cultivated mainly for their foliage. Begonia plants from this group have leaves that vary in size and pattern and grow from rhizomes, hence the name.
They are particularly used indoors as potted houseplants or outside as container plants, hanging plants, or bedding plants.
Some Rhizomatous Begonia you might like: Moonlit Snow, Autumn Twist, 50 Shades of Gray
Begonia as a Culinary and Medicinal Plant
Aside from their use as ornamental plants, begonias also have food and medicinal value. Tuberous begonias are known to have edible leaves and flowers. The parts are used in spread, dips, and salads (3). Some species of begonia are also used in folkloric medicine.
In India, one species of Begonia, B. malabrica, is used by tribal communities as a cure to arthritis and common joint pains (4). Another species, B. cucullate, is reported to have anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, and diuretic properties (3).
Are Begonias Toxic to Pets and Humans?
Begonias contain oxalate crystals in their roots and some on the stem. These crystals are irritants and can cause inflammation of the mouth and throat when ingested. Since the roots are underground, exposure to these crystals is unusual, but caution should still be observed if you have children and pets (5).
How Do I Take Care of My Begonia?
Does it Need Sunlight?
Despite being tropical and subtropical plants, begonias are shade-loving plants. Their leaves can be damaged when exposed to direct sunlight.
Some species, such as wax begonias, can tolerate direct sunlight, but some, like tuberous begonias, prefer more shade. In general, begonia plants can be placed in sunny areas with indirect light (6).
Temp and Humidity
Begonias are especially sensitive to cold temperatures. They should be kept in temperatures ranging from 75-85oF (23-29oC).
Begonias also love high humidity. Rex Begonias, in particular, are fuzzy when it comes to its humidity requirements so make sure to keep air humidity high while making sure not to encourage the growth of powdery mildew (6).
How Much Water Does it Need?
These plants grow best in moist soil, but they are susceptible to root rot with too frequent watering. To avoid this, watering should be done regularly once the top inch soil is nearly dry (6).
Soil and fertilizer
Since begonia plants are susceptible to root rot, it is important to use well-draining potting/growing media.
A mixture of peat with a small amount of gardening soil and perlite would be perfect for begonias. They do not require a lot of fertilizer. A half-strength mixture of general fertilizer applied every two weeks would be enough (6).
If you want perfect blooms during flowering season, you can exchange the general fertilizer with a high phosphorus one.
There are different methods of propagating begonias based on their group category. Wax begonias are propagated with stem cuttings and leaf cuttings. Tuberous and rhizomatous begonias can be propagated through their tubers and rhizomes. Begonias can also be propagated directly through seeds.
Propagation by cuttings is done by obtaining a leaf, removing some veins on the underside, and placing them on a moist media such as sand (7).
(1) Hvoslef-Eide A.K., Munster C. “Begonia”. In: Anderson N.O. (eds) “Flower Breeding and Genetics”. Springer, Dordrecht. 2007.
(2) Ellis B.W. et al. “The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy Without Chemicals”. Rodale Press. Penn. 1996. PP 39-41.
(3) Lim T.K. “Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants.” Vol 7. Springer Science and Business Media. 2013. PP 551-557.
(4) Suresh M. et al. “A Short review on Ethnomedicinal uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Begonia malabarica Lam.” International Journal of Botany Studies. 1(6). 2016. PP 16-17.
(5) Knight A. “A Guide to Poisonous House and Garden Plants”. CRC Press. 2007. PP 45-46.
(6) Murphy D.M. Duea A.W. “The Complete Guide to Growing Windowsill Plants: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply”. Atlantic Publishing Company. 2011. PP 106-112.
(7) Wyman D. “Wyman’s Gardening Encyclopedia”. Simon and Schuster. 1986. P 112.
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