Begonias: The Ultimate House Plant

June 12, 2015 Begonias 001

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Whether choosing a pet or a house plant, most of us have criteria.

We think about shedding and noise, ease of care, how much space we have, and the general appearance of our new companion.

Long hair or short?  Leggy or compact?  And how much will I need to feed it?

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June 12, 2015 Begonias 006

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Many of us treat our indoor plants a little like pets.  We offer fresh water and food.  We groom them, probably talk to them; and we clean up behind them.

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January 30, 2015 houseplants 002

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Having kept everything from ferns to Ficus trees over the years, I have developed some preferences and prejudices.

I like interesting foliage, first of all.  I want something eye-catching and unusual.  And I want to see growth and change.

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June 12, 2015 Begonia 2 002

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I grew up in the era when my mother kept ‘dish gardens’ in the living room.  These florist made concoctions were uniformly boring and rarely grew at all.

Nearly all included a ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue,’ otherwise known as ‘Snakeplant.’  They thrive on total neglect.

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June 12, 2015 Begonia 2 001

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For my money, rhizomatous Begonias remain the best ‘house plants’ of all.

Their leaves unfold like colorful mosaics or textured silk.  Even though they produce flowers from time to time, the flowers are almost an afterthought; and nearly always tiny.

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June 12, 2015 Begonias 003

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The leaves, streaked and mottled in shades of silver, green, black, red, pink, brown, white and purple, are more colorful and interesting than any flower, with the possible exception of orchids.

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July 24, 2014 hummingbird 053

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You probably know rhizomatous Begonias as ‘Rex’ Begonias.  ‘Rex’ of course is Latin for ‘king.’  All Rex Begonias are rhizomatous, but all rhizomatous Begonias are not classed as ‘Rex.’

The original species of B. Rex was found in the forests of northern India.  Since, the species has been hybridized with other rhizomatous Begonias to create the many many cultivars available around the world today.

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June 12, 2015 Begonias 011

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Rhizomatous Begonias thrive in the warm, shady environment most homes can offer.  They remain relatively small and rarely shed so much as a petal or leaf.  While these Begonias hate soggy soil, they appreciate humid air.  In areas with low humidity the will perform better when grown on a tray of moist gravel, or near other plants where humidity remains fairly high.

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July 14, ffern and begonia 004

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Most of our Begonias spend the summer out of doors in the shade.  They love our high coastal humidity.    Once outside, the leaves become more vibrantly colored as they respond to increased levels of light.

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This is the Begonia pictured above, as it looked near the end of February.  We had purchased it from Lowes in a 2" pot about three weeks earlier.  Notice how the leaf color has changed since it has been living outside on our shady deck?

This is the same Begonia pictured 2 photos above, as it looked near the end of February. We had purchased it from Lowes in a 2″ pot about three weeks earlier. Notice how the leaf color has changed since it has been living outside on our shady deck?

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Rhizomatous Begonias send up individual leaves, on long petioles, from a special stem called a rhizome, which creeps along the surface of the soil.  This means that as these plants grow larger, they can be divided by cutting the rhizome into pieces.  Each piece should have some roots and some leaves attached so it can grow on in its new pot.

I top dress the soil with fine gravel, often aquarium gravel, to make the pot look nicer and to protect the plants’ fragile leaves.

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A division taken when we re-potted a new Begonia purchased in February.

A division taken when we re-potted a new Begonia.

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Believe it or not, many rhizomatous Begonias are sold along with other ‘tropical’ plants in big box stores like Lowes and Walmart.

I scan their tropical plant displays for the distinctively beautiful leaves of Begonias.  They often come in tiny pots, 3″ or less, for just a few dollars.

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I just purchased this little Begonia at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, an excellent source for Begonias. A little pot like this costs between $2 and $3.

I just purchased this little Begonia at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, an excellent source for Begonias. A little pot like this costs between $2 and $3.

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Once cleaned up, potted up, and fed; these little guys respond quickly.  Like a stray adopted from the pound, they respond to love and care to grow into beautiful companion plants!

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Our new B. Rex in February, after about a month of care.

Our new B. Rex in February, after about a month of care.

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But unlike a stray Lab or Tom cat, these beauties will not grow out of bounds.  They are extremely well behaved and tolerant of the ways of humans.  They will never reach for the ceiling like a cane Begonia, or drop vivid petals everywhere  as the tuberous Begonias will.

These are the most refined and polite Begonias of the genus.

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This is the same plant shown above, as it looks today, nearly four months later.  Have you noticed how its leaves are of different sizes and colors?

This is the same plant shown above, as it looks today, nearly four months later. Have you noticed how its leaves are of different sizes and colors?

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If you’ve not yet lived with one of these lovely Begonias, you might consider adopting one soon.

They will become your faithful companions for year after year if you will simply give them light, warmth, humidity, a drink when they need it (soil dry to the touch) and a light meal from time to time.

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June 12, 2015 Begonia 2 005

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The difficult part of the relationship is choosing a favorite from so many tempting cultivars.

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June 12, 2015 Begonias 013~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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