The Begonia Genus

One of the largest genera of flowering perennial plants, the begonia genus is made up of more than 2000 different species. 

Most hail from tropical and subtropical parts of the world, meaning that they can only be grown as houseplants in colder climates, but some are suitable for bedding plants in these parts of the world, too.

Most begonias are terrestrial plants, but you can get some species that grow on other plants, too. 

Depending on the species, begonia flowers can be single or double, featuring pendant or upright flowers. Some leaves are beautifully patterned and come in bright colors such as pink, white, purple, and gray, featuring spots or stripes, and others feature deep green.

Begonia Name Origin

Charles Plumier, a French botanist who is honored by the genus Plumeria, named the begonia after Michel Begon, who was a plant collector as well as the governor of Saint-Domingue, known today as Haiti.

Begonia Flower Meaning

Begonias are traditionally given to someone when a favor has been paid back. They also represent the need to be cautious in a situation, and to consider your options carefully.

Begonia Facts

It’s worth noting that begonias are classified into different groups, depending on their traits. As the genus is so large, this helps as a starting point for choosing begonias, including its growth habit and appearance.

The American Begonia Society classifies them like so:

  • Tuberous begonias are among the most beautiful, featuring large, showy flowers. 
  • Cane begonias grow tough stems that resemble bamboo. 
  • Rex begonias are grown for their beautiful patterned leaves, which come in many colors. The flowers are usually cut off from the plant as they take up a lot of energy, and aren’t very showy.
  • Thick-stemmed begonias
  • Trailing begonias may be hardy or tender, with showy flowers or showy leaves and flowers, depending on the type you go for.
  • Shrub-like begonias make great statements in any garden.

Others categorize begonias according to their root type:

  • Fibrous-rooted Begonias: these plants have fibrous roots, and require a bright position and some sun. However, if you pick a spot that’s too sunny, the leaves can burn, so morning sun is best.
  • Tuberous Begonias: as you might expect, tuberous begonias grow from tubers. These store their food and water in their tubers and produce single or double flowers.  Tuberous begonias need some shade to thrive.
  • Rhizomatous Begonias: these begonias grow from rhizomes, and feature beautiful leaves, and less showy flowers.

It’s worth knowing that if you like to raise plants from seed, some begonia seeds are thought to be among the smallest in the world, making them very difficult to sow! 

Begonia Uses

Begonias are often used as bedding plants and fillers for containers such as window boxes and hanging baskets to brighten up any area. It also helps that they can withstand deer and rabbits.

Tender begonias are grown as prized houseplants in colder climates, both for their unusual leaves and beautiful flowers, such as Begonia maculata (see also How To Grow Begonia Maculata). One thing that these plants absolutely hate is being misted, so don’t do it unless you want the leaves to drop off!

Some begonias are used in herbal medicine to help soothe burns and toothache and to treat kidney problems.

How To Grow Begonias

Depending on the type you choose, begonias may be hardy in zones 2 through to 11. Conditions range depending on the species, but most prefer well-draining, damp soil which has an acidic pH.

As long as the soil is kept moist, they don’t need a lot of water or maintenance. Just make sure you keep them in a shady position, away from full sunlight.

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