If I lived somewhere warmer or could afford to heat a greenhouse to at least 10c I could easily get addicted to begonias – and I don’t mean the nasty, squeaky ‘semperflorens’ begonias which I wouldn’t grow if you paid me. With so much variety in a genus that is so amazingly distinct from any other plants there is something for everyone and lots for me. Some are difficult to grow, a few are hardy but a great many are easy and rewarding as houseplants. While I was at Southport show this year I bought a couple of begonias from the Dibleys* stand. They were rolled up in newspaper and made the crossing to Ireland in my luggage. Begonias tend to have brittle, fleshy leaves and stems so they didn’t like the treatment much and most of the leaves on my B. carolineifolia had departed company with the roots when I unpacked the plant. But with some careful watering and a bit of TLC, three months later it is looking good.
If I was asked to describe a begonia I would say that the leaves are typically rounded and asymmetric at the base, along with having either male or female flowers on each plant, the female flowers having three-parted seed pods behind them and five or more petals and male flowers with four petals in two pairs. So straight away this begonia looks strikingly different, although the flowers are typically begonia – pink and in large clusters. At the moment my plant is stemless with all the leaves growing from soil level. But as it grows it will produce a thick, rarely branched stem to give an almost palm-like effect.
It is native of south Mexico and Central America and will grow up to 1m high. The leaves will grow up to 30cm across but mine are just half that at the moment but show the typical shape and the rusty hairs on the petioles and on the underside of the leaves. Like most shrubby begonias you should keep this one at a minimum of 10c in winter and preferably a bit higher. You can water and feed moderately in summer but you need to be careful in winter and let the compost almost dry out between waterings and never let the plant sit in water. It wants good light but not strong sunlight and my plant was on an east-facing window at first but is now in a west-facing window which potentially could be very bright but remember I am in Ireland!
Overall it is a lovely plant that should keep on looking good for years and no one will guess it is a begonia.
* Dibleys are best known for their streptocarpus but they also sell achimenes and other gesneriads and begonias and coleus. And they sell by mail order. http://www.dibleys.com