BEGONIA (elephant’s-ear) comes from tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, America and Africa. Begonia plant is named in honour of Michel Bégon, a former governor of Santo Domingo (western part of Haiti island), who was very fond of flowers. Begonia family includes about 1,000 species. Begonia flowers are very popular house plants because of a great variety of colours and leaf shapes as well as beautiful flowers.
All begonias have diclinous flowers (pollen suppliers and pistillate flowers). They can be artificially pollinated, in this case begonia plant will have a fruit in form of a boll with very small seeds that can be used to reproduct begonia. Begonia plants are divided into three groups: tuberous begonia that has tubers in its earthnut, which are used for porpagation; foliated begonia with no tubers, but its root is thickened and is also used for propagation; the third group is shrub-like begonia. These begonia plants do not use roots for propagation.
There are shrub begonias, subshrubs and herbaceous begonias. At home people mainly plant hybrid species. As house plants there are used two begonia species – ornamental flowering begonias and ornamental foliated begonias.
Ornamental flowering begonias are in their turn divided into plants, which leaves fall off and their next generation of flowers is planted from their tubers, or (shrub-like begonias) the plant falls into true dormancy that should be provided for this plant.Another species of ornamental flowering begonias is an evergreen begonia, which preserves its leaves the whole year round. These begonias have less spectacular flowers.
The most spectacular ornamental flowering begonias are tuberous begonias. Their flowers can be double and single and have colours from white, cream-coloured to bright red. Begonia flowers can be about 5-15 cm big. There are Begonias Pendula grown in hanging pots or vases, they have as a rule small flowers.
The most popular tuberous begonia species are hybrids of BEGONIA TUBERHYBRIDA. They have big leaves up to 25 cm long and beautiful double and single flowers on sarcocauls. The flowers have up to 10 cm in diameter with pollen suppliers being bigger than pistillate flowers.
There are a lot of sorts of tuberous begonia with a great variety of colours. BEGONIA TUBERHYBRIDA PENDULA are notable for thin pendent stems and leaves. Many sorts of tuberous begonias including Begonia Pendula can be grown from seeds.
Another ornamental flowering begonia species is shrub-like begonia. The most popular plant in this group is BEGONIA SEMPERFLORENS (Wax Begonia). As it is obvious from its name, this sort of begonia has a long blooming period.
These plants are used as garden begonias and as house plants. Wax begonia blooms almost the whole year round indoors, but with the age it looses its ornamentality, so it should be renewed from rods every 2-3 years.
Begonia Semperflorens has sleek leaves of green or reddish colour, small double and single flowers of white, pink and red colours. It can be grown from seeds. One more shrub-like begonia has original flowers –BEGONIA FUCYSIOIDES. Its flowers are held on pendent inflorescences resembling fuchsia flowers.
Ornamental foliated begonias are usually planted because of their ornamental leaves, though some sorts of this begonias can even bloom. A leader in this group is Rex Begonia (BEGONIA REX). Its leaves resemble odd-shaped heart up to 30 cm long. The leaf itself has irregular original colouring from red, brown to dark green. The flowers of Rex Begonias are far not so beautiful as its leaves, that is why it is desired to remove them, so that the plant won’t waste powers for blooming and won’t lose attractiveness.
Other ornamental foliated begonias have leaves of various shapes and colours. Spotty Begonia (BEGONIA MAKULATA) has up to 25 cm green leaves with white spots. The leaves of Cleopatra Begonia (BEGONIA CLEOPATRA) resemble maple leaves. The leaves of Begonia Masoniana with their rough and verrucate surface resemble frog skin.
BEGONIA TIGER is also popular. This plant is for those who wants to save some space, because bushes of this plant grow not higher than 25 cm. Small leaves of dark green colour with bronze tint have light spots on their face side.
Garden begonias are mostly represented by Wax Begonias. They are used outdoors as annual plants. They tolerate sunlight and half-shade very well. Begonia is unpretentious. It gets on with many plants very well, blooms long (from July and until the first autumn frosts). With the first frosts they can be planted into pots and be used as house plants.
Begonias are quite unpretentious and resistant to diseases. But they need right treatment to be well developed and to have beautiful look. The most important here is air humidity. All begonias need high humidity of air. To provide needed humidity we recommend to place the top on a wet peat or a tray with water, but the top itself should not be in the water. For this you can place some pebbles into a tray or turn over a saucer and put a pot on it.
It is desired that the air around begonia is sprinkled, but you should keep the flowers and leaves from water drops. Temperance is the main requirement for such a plant like begonia. Good conditions for begonia mean moderate temperature (in summer it should be near +20 0C, and in winter the temperature should be above +15 0C), bright scattered light with no direct sunlight.
In winter you can put begonia to a place well lighted by the sun for several hours in the morning and in the evening (the only exception is Begonia Semperflorens. It tolerates shadow and bright sunlight very well). The watering should be also moderate. The soil should be moist, but not wet. From spring to autumn during its growth and blooming you should water it when the soil gets dry, and in winter you should reduce watering.
During the vegetation period it is reasonable to nourish begonia at least twice with full mineral fertilizers. To make begonia bloom longer (especially tuberous ones) you should remove pistillate flowers as soon as they appear (pistillate flowers are not double ones with three-lobed seed capsule under calyx lobes). To improve tuber growth with tuber begonias you should remove new buds in September so that the plant won’t waste its powers for blooming.
All begonias are propagated good by stem and leaf cuttings and by division. Tuberous begonias are propagated by tubers or seeds. Tuberous propagation of begonias is made as follows: in autumn you should digg out the tubers, cut off stems, remove the soil from them and store them under the temperature of +8-10 0C in the sand or peat so that the tubers won’t get dry.
The tubers are planted into pots from February to May depending upon when you would like to have blooming plant. For sprouting they are planted into small pots with sandy soil, the tubers are driven into the soil by halves. You should water them moderately. Sprouting goes slowly (it takes up to several weeks). First there appear rootlets and only after them appear sprouts themselves. As soon as there appear sprouts, the tubers should be sprinkled with some soil and the pot should be put to a light warm windowsill.
Seedage is quite a troublesome process. The best term for seeding is from December to March. The seeds are sowed into earthen saucers with leaf soil, mixture of such a soil with peat and sand, or right into the peat. Begonia seeds are very small, that is why they should not be dug into the soil but just be pressed down slightly. Sprouts appear in two weeks. They should be dived 2-3 times.
Grown up begonias are planted with a soil clod into small pots. In July-August these plants are blooming and until winter they manage to build tubers. Foliated begonias are easily propagated with leaf cuttings or by division while replanting.
For leaf cuttings you should take a leaf at the bottom of the plant. The length of this cutting should be not less than 5 cm. The rootage will proceed better if you use phytohormones. The cutting should be stuck into the soil so that the leaf won’t touch the ground.
The soil should be moistened and crushed around the cutting. Stem cuttings are implanted in the same way as leaf cuttings, but stem cutting should be not less than 7 cm long. The cuttings should be planted as soon as possible so that the slice won’t dry. The bes time for cutting is spring and early summer.
BEGONIA. DISEASES AND PEST
When there are mistakes in begonia care it can shed leaves and buds. The reason for this is most probably the lack of moisture in the soil or insufficient air humidity around the plant. In this case the tops of leaves become brown and the leaves begin to fall off if you won’t resume right watering.
Pale colour of leaves indicates the lack of light. If there is excessive moisture or the temperature is lower than needed, begonia can be affected by blueberry blossom blight. With this disease the leaves get light mold, which is caused by a fungus. The affected parts of the plant should be deleted, and the rest should be treated with fungicide. Powdery mildew also belongs to fungus diseases. If your begonia suffers from this disease, its leaves will be covered with farina.
Dryness of air, sharp changes of temperature and draughts facilitate propagation of powdery mildew. The affected plant should be sprayed with milled sulphur or colloid sulphur diluted in water. The solution should have the concentration of 1%. You should spray the plant outdoors. The outdoor temperature should be +25 0C and higer. You can treat the plant with fungicide as well.
The most common pests that affect begonias are red spider mite (glasshouse spider mite), aphid (very small insect) and tick. Tick and aphid live at the lower side of a leaf and feed on a plant juice. The tick can be eliminated by spraying and washing the bottom of leaves with diluted solution of soap and tobacco or a solution of soap and Dalmatian pyrethrum. You can treat the plant with drugs containing pyrethrum or insecticide. The tick spreads quickly in a dry air with high temperature. The aphid can be also eliminated with drugs containing pyrethrum. The treatment should be conducted until the pests are eliminated.