Hand-me-down Houseplants

Standard

20160120AWhen you visit any garden center or even one of those big box stores, there is always a houseplant section, but, most discouragingly, they all sell essentially the same plants. However when you visit people’s homes, you’ll often see houseplants that are never (or hardly ever) offered in local garden centers. If you ask about them, you’ll likely to hear a long and fascinating story, for many of these commercially unavailable houseplants have been handed down in the same family for generations, came from a cutting offered by an old friend or were picked up in a flea market or at a plant exchange.

Most of these hand-me-down plants used to be grown commercially, but disappeared from the market ages ago. Why? My theory is that, because they are practically unkillable and they are already found in so many homes, they were no longer marketable. Either that, or plant nurseries have simply so totally forgotten about them that they don’t even know they exist. Ask around the next time you’re in a nursery and you’ll see. These plants are commercially extinct.

Ask whether anyone has one at your local horticultural society meeting, however, and it’s an entirely different story: hands will fly up! These plants are all immensely shareable and therefore you’ll soon find inundated in cuttings and divisions.

A Definition

For me, for a houseplant to be a true hand-me-down, it has to have been around for a long time: at least 30 years. And it should be absent from regular garden centers. That’s why I automatically eliminate the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittata’) from the list, even though yours may actually be a hand-me-down. There is no real sense of saving it for further generations, as it is still widely available from just about every plant merchant. The same goes for the famous heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum, generally known by its former name, P. scandens oxycardium). It was introduced in 1936 through the Woolworth store chain and, while it may be that you think the specimen you inherited from your great aunt Elise is at least 70 years old, it’s also quite likely she bought it in 2002, so widely is this plant still available. And the same goes for the various dracaenas (Dracaena spp.), pothos (Epipremnum aureum), rubber trees (Ficus elastica), jades (Crassula argentea), wax plants (Hoya carnosa), clivias (Clivia miniata), dieffenbachias (Dieffenbachia spp.) and so many others. Yes, possibly you can trace your plant back as far as Noah’s Ark, but if it is still commonly sold, it is not of any great historical value.

A Few Hand-me-down Plants

What follows are examples of houseplants that truly have been passed from one generation to another for a long time and are almost never offered commercially any more, at least that is outside of mail order nurseries specializing in ususual houseplants. When you have one of these plants, you almost have a moral obligation not only to keep it going, but to ensure its continued survival by sharing it with others.

Three Begonias with a Long History

Let’s start with begonias, as so many of them fall into the hand-me-down plant category.

20160120B

Begonia x erythrophylla

The beefsteak begonia (Begonia x erythrophylla) is among the first hybrid begonias ever produced, introduced in Germany in 1845. With its shiny, waxy, rounded leaves of a delicious red wine color, its pink flowers during the winter (when you need flowers the most!) and its somewhat pendant habit due to creeping rhizomes that come to hang down outside of the pot, it makes an excellent choice for hanging basket.

20160120C

Begonia x ricinifolia ‘Immense’

Begonia ‘Immense’ (B. x ricinifolia ‘Immense’) is certainly aptly named. With its large green somewhat asymmetrical star-shaped leaves that can measure up to 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter, this 1847 hybrid stands out from the crowd. Equally curious are the whorls of hairy red scales that swirl around the petiole (leaf stem). It produces a thick creeping rhizome and blooms in the winter, producing clusters of small pale pink flowers.

These first two begonias can be propagated by rhizome cuttings, but also by leaf cuttings and even leaf section cuttings, making sharing them extra easy.

20160120Djpg

Begonia ‘Lucerna’

The original angel wing begonia (Begonia ‘Lucerna’ [‘Corallina Lucerna’]) was hybridized in Switzerland in 1892 and is still widely distributed… at least non commercially. With its upright stem, its wing shaped leaves prettily spotted with silver and its drooping bright pink flowers in summer, it doesn’t look much like its cousins. This begonia is propagated by stem cuttings.

There are more hand-me-down begonias out there: begonias are truly a group of plants with staying power!

Walking Iris

20160120E

Neomarica northiana

The walking iris (Neomarica northiana) is also called the apostle plant, as it is said that each segment must have 12 leaves before it will flower. It was introduced in the 1920s. It is indeed an iris relative and certainly looks the part, with its sword-shaped leaves and its short-lived blue and white flowers with the usual iris standards and falls. The flowers seem to emerge directly from a leaf that continues to grow in length after the blooms stop. Eventually a baby plant forms near the end of the stem, pulling the stem downward and making it a very curious hanging plant. I regularly see this plant in people’s homes, but almost never in garden centers.

Queen’s Tears

20160120F

Billbergia nutans

You rarely see this bromeliad (Billbergia nutans), with its tight rosettes of very narrow, almost grasslike leaves growing in dense clumps, other than in botanical gardens… and private homes. In the 1930s, however, it was a very popular Christmas plant because it blooms naturally at just the right season. And it is a tough-as-nails plant, easily tolerating almost the entire range of indoor growing conditions. It bears pendant stems covered in bright pink bracts while the actual blooms drip down as if they are crying, giving its common name queen’s tears. The flowers are not as colorful as the bracts, being a more mundane green with deep purple margins.

This is a great plant for people who want to try bromeliads, but aren’t patient enough to wait the 3 to 6 years most take to rebloom. Queen’s tears produces a mass of pups and matures rapidly, so there always a few plants in bloom every year just in time for Christmas. The numerous pups also means it can readily be multiplied for exchange purposes.

The True Christmas Cactus

20160120G

Schlumbergera x buckleyi, with hanging stems, is the real Christmas cactus.

The true Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) merits a mention as a hand-me-down plant as it hasn’t been offered in garden centers for half a century. What you’re seeing in bloom at Christmas in garden centers are Thanksgiving cacti (S. truncata) that were specially treated so they would bloom at Christmas. You can learn how to distinguish between the two here.

The true Christmas cactus is not much appreciated in garden centers, as its distinctly hanging stems make it hard to ship (the more upright stems of the Thanksgiving cactus are much easier to manipulate), so it can be hard to find. However, I know lots of people who grow the real thing in their living rooms and have done so in some cases for over 40 years.

Boston Fern

20160120H

The real Boston ivy (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’)

Including this plant of the list of hand-me-downs is a bit risky because there are so many look-alike ferns on the market, all cultivars deriving from Nephrolepsis exaltata or other Nephrolepis species. However, today’s modern clones are smaller, more compact plants than the true Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’. This plant becomes quite a monster, from distinctly arching medium green fronds to over 3 feet (1 m) in length, dripping downward like a cascade. It also produces dozens of thin green hairy rhizomes that dangle below the foliage like so much vegetable spaghetti. The original was introduced in 1894 and was the classic plant for the parlor, that room once found in every middleclass home and used solely for receiving distinguished guests… and funerals. You can still finds huge specimens of this fern in private homes, but also in churches and convents. Traditionally it was always placed on a pedestal, but it also looks great as a hanging plant.

Screw Pine

20160120I

Pandanus veitchii

Another plant seen in botanical gardens and private homes, but never in garden centers is the screw pine. (Pandanus veitchii). It’s actually a Polynesian tree introduced by Veitch Nurseries in England towards the end of the 1800s. Indoors, it forms a rather large plant with arching linear leaves of a waxy appearance, with small sharp hooks at the margin and on the underside of the leaf. The leaves are striped green and white. Over time the plant produces pretty impressive aerial roots and a profusion of babies emerging from its base and poking out through its foliage. I often see this big plant in people’s windows when I take my nightly constitutional.

Mother of Thousands

20160120J

Kalanchoe daigremontiana

This upright succulent plant (Kalanchoe daigremontiana, formerly Bryophytum daigremontianum) bears its name well, as its long, thick triangular leaves are lined in dozens of tiny plantlets… and yes, maybe even thousands! It’s also called Mexican hat plant (even though it is from Madagascar), life plant and alligator plant. The plantlets fall off at the slightest touch and root in neighboring pots. Thus, the plant’s owner always has dozens to offer visitors. Garden centers don’t appreciate its naturally invasive habit (after all, imagine the weeding they’ll need to do as the plantlets start to move into and overtake the other plants in the section!). Although absent from garden centers, it is still commonly grown in many homes. Give this tough-as-nails plant plenty of sun and let it dry between waterings and you’ll find it easy to grow. But you too may come find its weedy habit a bit annoying!

There are several other kalanchoes that produce the same kind of plantlets, but K. daigremontiana is the traditional hand-me-down variety.

Any Others?

Have I missed a few essential hand-me-down houseplants? After all, what is common in one area might not be in another, so that is quite possible. If so, let me know and if I agree with you, I’ll update this blog.

Can’t Find Them?

Yeah, well there’s the rub: by very definition, hand-me-down plants just aren’t commercially available. As mentioned above, ask at your local horticultural society. Also look in flea markets and of course, at plant exchanges. Or visit grandma: she just might have one.

Among the few mail order nurseries that carry some of these plants are Glasshouse Works, Logee’s Greenhouses and Top Tropicals, all in the US. Canadians will need an import permit (from the federal government) and a phytosanitary certificate (supplied by the nursery) in order to import them.

Advertisements

2016: The Year of the Begonia

Standard
20160113A

The Begonia House at the Montreal Botanical Garden.

Each year the National Garden Bureau declares a “year of” that features four plants: one vegetable, one perennial, one annual, and for the first time in 2016, one bulb. We looked at the Year of the Carrot earlier in the month. Now let’s look at this year’s annual, the begonia. In coming weeks, I’ll look into the other two winners.

Origins

20160113E

The genus Begonia has a pantropical distribution.

With more than 1,700 species, Begonia is the fifth largest genus of flowering plants in the world, with almost an almost pantropical distribution: South and Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The genus was named by the French botanist Charles Plumier for his friend, Michel Bégon, governor of the island of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) and a serious amateur botanist.

What is a Begonia?

The genus is composed of a wide range of mainy herbaceous plants (a few are semi-woody), including some with rhizomes and tubers, most adapted to moist tropical or subtropical climates. Nearly 15,000 hybrids of these popular plants exist. Although a very few species show some adaptation to temperate climates (B. grandis, for example, is hardy to zone 6b), most are grown as houseplants or as bedding plants, treated, in the latter case, as annuals in cold climates. They are also grown as perennials in hardiness zone 10 and above. Some begonias are grown mainly for their beautiful, often exotically colored foliage, others for their attractive, abundant and long-lasting flowers.

Most gardeners with a bit of experience can recognize a begonia on sight, but here are few pointers for beginners:

  • 20160113D

    Leaves are often wing-shaped.

    The leaves are alternate and usually asymmetrical (they are often ear-shaped or wing-shaped);

  • There are usually distinct nodes (bumps) on the stem;
  • The flowers are quite distinctive, with two opposite sepals much larger than the pair of much smaller petals, borne at right angles to the sepals. This is however really only obvious with single flowers.
  • 20160113C

    Winged ovaries

    Female flowers have a winged ovary behind their tepals. It usually has three wings.

Begonia flowers are monoecious (male and female flowers appear separately but on the same plant). Its winged ovary readily distinguishes the female flower from the male flower. If the female flower is fertilized, the ovary becomes a capsule filled with numerous very fine seeds that, in nature, are carried far and wide by the wind, ensuring the species’ survival. Many species are epiphytes and grow on tree branches or trunks.

Classification

Horticulturists like to put plants into categories, but begonias have always given both taxonomists and gardeners a hard time. After all, how can you bring order to chaos? Some botanists accept no less than 87 sections in the genus, while some horticultural classifications include dozens of groups. However, begonias, even from different continents and with different numbers of chromosomes, will often readily cross, so many plants have traits belonging to two different classes and sections and thus fall through the cracks.

Here is a simplified classification that might be useful for the ordinary gardener, although it is certainly too simple for serious begonia collectors.

A. Fibrous-rooted Begonias

This category is a bit of a misnomer: all begonias have fibrous roots. However, it is commonly used to describe all begonias that have only fibrous roots, therefore neither rhizomes nor tubers. Fibrous-rooted begonias can be short to tall and may be grown for their foliage or their flowers.

A1. Wax Begonias (B. x semperflorens-cultorum)

20160113I Ambassador Green Leaf

Begonia x semperflorens ‘Ambassador Green Leaf’

Traditionally, this group includes only one hybrid species: B. x semperflorens-cultorum, the popular wax or bedding begonia. This is a relatively compact plant with erect stems and glossy, somewhat spoon-shaped leaves, green or bronze in color. The flowers are small but numerous, in various shades of pink, red and white.

For convenience sake, I like to include two more recent introductions in this category: so-called B. x benariensis (I’m far from sure the name is botanically valid) such as the ‘Big’ series (plants twice as large as the usual B. x semperflorens-cultorum, but otherwise very similar) and Dragon Wing and Baby Wing series, with arching stems and wing-shaped leaves.

20160113SBegonia_DragonWingRed5-PanAmericanSeed

Begonia ‘Dragon Wing Red’ falls between the cracks: it behaves and is used like a wax begonia, but has leaves like an angel wing begonia.

These begonias are usually produced by seeds and treated as annuals, but you can also multiply them by division or stem cuttings. You can also prolong their life by moving them indoors in the fall to serve as houseplants.

A2. Other Fibrous-rooted Begonias

Typically begonia authorities divide this group into many subcategories, such cane-like begonias, shrub-like begonias, thick-stemmed begonias and trailing or scandent begonias. However so few are available through in the average garden center that I find this creates confusion rather than simplifying things, so I prefer to lump them all together into a single category.

20160113J Lucerna

Fibrous begonia ‘Lucerna’: a popular hand-me-down houseplant.

Often these begonias have erect stems, although often arching at the tip, stems with very obvious knots and highly asymmetric, wing-shaped leaves (they are often simply called “angelwing begonias” for that reason), although there are many exceptions: plants with climbing or pendant stems or with leaves that are star-shaped or even compound. Their foliage is often the main attraction: it often shiny, hairy, purple, red, or dotted with silver. The flowers tend to be small and usually pink, red or white, rarely orange. Some species branch abundantly, others tend to produce few ramifications, even when you pinch them.

Usually these begonias are grown as houseplants in temperate climates, although they also do wonderfully planted outdoors for the summer. In the Tropics, they are treated as perennials or small shrubs.

Fibrous-rooted begonias are usually multiplied by stem cuttings or by division.

B. Rhizomatous Begonias

These begonias have a rhizome: a usually creeping stem (although some rhizomes are upright) that root in contact with the soil as they grow. The plants tend to get wider as they age, but to remain low growing. This category is traditionally divided into 2 parts: rhizamotous begonias per se (a sort of holdall category) and rex begonias.

B1. Rhizomatous Begonias

20160113KBegonia_heracleifolia_f._nigricans

Rhizomatous begonia Begonia heracleifolia nigricans is one of the rare begonias with star-shaped leaves.

This is the largest category of begonias, with hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars. Most are fairly compact plants (but there are also varieties with very large leaves), often with round or star-shaped foliage. The flowers are usually pink or white and tend to bloom during the winter, since most require short days in order to bloom. Most are mainly grown for their attractive and often very colorful foliage.

Until recently these begonias were generally considered houseplants, but gardeners have begun to discover they also make excellent annuals for shady flowerbeds.

This group is usually multiplied by stem cuttings, leaf cuttings or division.

B2. Rex Begonias

20160113LB.rex

A few examples of the variety in Begoniarex-cultorum.

This subcategory of rhizomatous begonia includes hybrids derived from the long-lost species B. rex crossed with other begonias. The resulting hybrid species is called B. x rex-cultorum. The foliage of rex begonias is particularly colorful, coming in all imaginable shades of green, red, silver, purple, brown and pink, often with metallic highlights. Originally rex begonias had leaves that were more or less ear-shaped, but there are now varieties with star-shaped and even spiral leaves. Although most have creeping rhizomes, some do have upright ones. These begonias are normally grown uniquely for their foliage and little attention is paid to their rather sparse white or pink flowers.

Rex begonias are propagated in the same ways as other rhizomatous begonias and require much the same care. They are however considered harder to grow well, especially over time. Many varieties go into a sort of semi-dormancy in the winter, losing many or most of their leaves. If so, temporarily reduce their watering, letting the soil dry out more than usual, while still maintaining good atmospheric humidity. Start watering more abundantly when the plant shows signs of new growth.

Long considered houseplants, rex begonias have begun to star in shadier parts of the summer garden in recent years.

C. Tuberous begonias

These begonias have a tuber, an underground organ much like a potato, and differ from most other begonias in that they go fully dormant for months, losing both leaves and stems.

C1. Hybrid Tuberous Begonias (B. x tuberhybrida)

20160113MBegonia_NonstopMoccaMix-Parkseed_Cropped

Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Mocha NonStop’

This is the classic large-flowered tuberous begonia gardeners have salivated over for generations. Most have extremely double, extremely large flowers (up to dinner plate size!) and come in a variety of colors: pink, red, yellow, purple, white, orange, etc. Often the flowers are bi-colored or have fringed margins. The stems may be upright or drooping, the latter often used in hanging baskets. There are dozens of classifications for these begonias (Picotee, Fimbriata, Pendula, Crispa, etc.), but you don’t need to know how to classify them in order to grow them!

The very popular ‘NonStop’ series, used extensively in flowerbeds worldwide, belongs to the Multiflora division, famous for flowers that are somewhat smaller that most other tuberous begonias (although much larger than those of other types of begonia), but as the name suggest, are produced profusely through the entire summer.

20160113TTuber

Begonia tuber

This begonia goes fully dormant in the fall and starts to grow again in the spring. Traditionally the tuber is dug up after the leaves are killed by frost, then kept dry and fairly cool during the winter. They can be stored in vermiculite, peat, sawdust, or newspaper or, if you grow them in pots, just pile the pots one on top of the other in a dark corner. The tubers start to sprout all on their own towards the end of the winter. Repot and start watering them in March or April, about 1-2 months before its time to plant them out.

Multiplication: seed and stem cuttings. You can try dividing larger tubers, but the cut surface often fails to heal properly, which can lead to rot.

C2. Bolivian Begonia (B. boliviensis and its hybrids)

Everything old is new again. My father used to grow this begonia when I was a young child, then it seemed to disappear from the market for decades. It suddenly came into prominence again around 2007 when the cultivar ‘Bonfire’, with orange-red flowers, very much like the old plants I remembered, was introduced. There are now many other varieties in shades of red, orange, yellow, pink and white. The leaves are long and narrow and the flowers have long pointed tepals, giving a tubular flower that hummingbirds love. This cliff-dwelling species has a naturally trailing habit, but there are now more upright cultivars and ones with more open, less tubular flowers.

This begonia goes fully dormant in the fall. Its tuber can be huge! Maintenance and multiplication is exactly like hybrid tuberous begonias and it fact, it is one of the parent species of this group.

C3. Hiemalis Begonia (B. x hiemalis)

20160113ODragoneWhiteBlushn

Begonia ‘Dragone White Blushing’

This hybrid species often goes under the names Rieger begonia or Elatior begonia after two hybrid series that were once very popular. Hiemalis means “of winter” and these plants are naturally winter blooming. They come from a cross between summer-flowering tuberous begonias and the rarely grown winter-flowering species, B. socotrana. Despite their theoretical winter bloom, nurseries now offer hiemalis begonias all year long, even as bedding plants for the summer garden. This is done by offering the plants artificially short days. Indeed, once flowering is initiated under short days, the plant will continue to flower for 3 to 4 months even under long days, a technique that makes this plant a very good choice for the summer garden.

The flowers are smaller than those of most tuberous begonias, although larger than other begonia types. They are usually double and come in almost every color except blue. Modern hybrids bloom so profusely that you can scarcely see the foliage! After flowering, the stems start to die back. Ideally, you should cut the plant back at this point and let it rest for 5 or 6 weeks before starting another growing cycle… but hiemalis begonias are notoriously difficult to recuperate at the end of their season, so most gardeners simply buy new plants every year.

Propagation is by stem cuttings… but you may struggle trying to keep the cuttings alive.

C4. Lorraine or Christmas Begonia (B. x cheimantha)

20160113PCheimantha

Begonia x cheimantha

This begonia results from a cross between the winter-flowering B. socotrana and the semi-tuberous B. dregei. The first cultivar was named ‘Gloire de Lorraine’, hence the common name Lorraine begonia. And it is also called Christmas begonia because of its early winter blooming period. Its abundant simple flowers are usually pink or white. Propagation is by stem cuttings… but as with the hiemalis begonia, it is not easy to maintain this plant from one year to the next. This begonia has largely been replaced in garden centers by the hiemalis begonia.

 

C5. Semi-tuberous Begonias

20160113QB. Dregei

Begonia dregei

The most common species in this category is B. dregei, a species with a swollen stem base (caudex) and small white flowers, often used in bonsai. With its small leaves and decent branching habit (a bit of pinching will be needed), it looks like a small tree even if its stems are not truly woody. This begonia goes semi-dormant in winter: cut back on watering at that time. Propagation by stem cuttings and seeds.

General Begonia Culture

With such a wide range of different plants, you’d expect to need a lot of varied instructions on how to cultivate them all, but in fact, most begonias do best under pretty similar conditions… as long as you respect their growing season, because some, as mentioned, go dormant and don’t need light or watering for months on end.

In general, begonias prefer partial shade and many will tolerate full shade. Over time, however, many sun-tolerant tuberous and wax begonias have been developed and they do well in full sun, at least in northern regions. Give your begonias rich, loose, well-drained soil, moderate watering (only during the growing season, of course) and decent atmospheric humidity (indoors) and you should have no trouble growing them. They grow as easily in pots (indoors or out) as in the ground. Regular fertilization (during the growing season, of course) will stimulate better bloom, especially for plants grown in pots outdoors and therefore exposed to rain (rain, as wonderful as it may be for plants, has the annoying habit of leaching container soil of all its minerals). In the fall, except in hardiness zones 10-12, almost all begonias will need to move indoors if you want to save them from the cold.

Asexual Propagation

The easiest and quickest method of multiplying begonias is by stem cuttings, a technique that works with almost all varieties. Simply slip a 3 or 4 inch (8-10 cm) section of stem into damp soil, keep the mix moist and the air humid for a few weeks and you’ll soon have a new plant.

Rhizome cuttings are just as easy, the only difference being that you press the rhizome horizontally into the growing mix rather than placing it upright.

You can multiply many begonias (especially rhizomatous begonias, including rex begonias) by leaf cuttings as well.

20160113Qbouture

Leaf section cuttings.

Take a healthy leaf and insert its petiole into a pot of moist growing mix. No rooting hormone is necessary, but high humidity helps. Thus, it is wise to cover the pot with a transparent plastic bag. Place the cutting in a moderately lit spot and at fairly warm temperatures (21˚C or more)… and wait. A small plant will sprout from the soil after a month or two.

If you need many plants, you can even use leaf sections as cuttings. To do so, cut a leaf into pieces, each with a small bit of midrib or primary vein, and press the sections into moist growing mix. Alternatively, press an entire leaf flat against the soil and cut its veins with a knife: a baby plant will soon poke out of each cut vein.

Sexual Propagation

Begonias are notoriously difficult to grow from seed. The extremely fine seed gives seedlings that are tiny and very fragile at first, and their growth can be slow. It’s often more logical to buy trays of plants in the spring instead of trying to start them yourself. However, if you want to try growing begonias from seeds, here’s how:

You’ll need to so the seeds of begonias you want to plant out very early in the season, in January or February. At that season, however, days are still short, yet begonias need good light to germinate. As a result, germination can be poor or irregular and initial growth almost nil. That’s why it’s best to start begonias under lights, as that gives you full control of day length. Use a timer to set your lamp to 14 hour days: that will ensure good germination and equal growth. Especially don’t expose tuberous begonia seedlings to short days, as they are long day plants and therefore need days longer than 12 hours in order to bloom. In fact, if tuberous begonia seedlings are exposed to short days, that will stimulate tuber formation and put an end to their growth for the season, long before they have time to bloom..

20160113RBegonia_TuberousSeeds-Benary

Pelleted seeds on the left, natural begonia seeds on the right.

Most begonia seeds sold today are pelleted seeds, making them easier to handle. On the other hand, pelleted seeds are also much more expensive.

To sow the seeds, fill a pot or seed tray with moist potting mix, level, and apply the seeds to the surface. Press them lightly into the mix without covering them with soil, because begonia seeds need light to germinate. Spray the container with warm water and put the seed container in a clear plastic bag or inside a mini-greenhouse.

Place the container in about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) below a fluorescent lamp. Its gentle heat will help germination, as it should remain above 72˚F (21˚C) day and night. In 7-14 days, sometimes longer, you should see very tiny green leaves appear. At that point, remove the bag or dome to increase air circulation.

Transplant the seedlings in small individual pots when they have two or three leaves. Keep the soil slightly moist (you have to water very gently, preferably from below, as water pouring from the watering can’s spout can easily knock over or bury fragile young seedlings). Also, fertilize occasionally with a soluble fertilizer.

When outdoor temperatures remain above 50˚F (10˚C), acclimate the seedlings to garden conditions and transplant them, preferably into partial shade. Or continue to grow them indoors if you want to use them as houseplants.

Fun Facts About Begonias

20160113H

  • The tuberous begonia ‘Kimjongilia’ is one of North Korea’s floral emblems. It blooms annually on the birthday of the country’s late president, Kim Jong-il.
  • Only male flowers of tuberous begonias have double flowers. Begonia experts remove the female flowers to give male flowers more energy to bloom.
  • Begonia flowers are edible and in fact very rich in vitamin C. Their pleasant sweet/tart taste comes from the oxalic acid they contain, the same product that gives spinach and rhubarb their flavor. Since oxalic acid can be toxic if consumed in large quantities, it is best to consume begonia flowers in moderation.
  • In the language of flowers, begonia means “beware”.
  • Begonia seeds are among the smallest in the vegetable kingdom. One gram of begonia seeds can produce up to 100,000 seedlings!

    20160113G

    Begonia floral carpet in Brussels.

  • Every two years, in August, the Grand Place in Brussels is covered with a huge carpet of tuberous begonia flowers. It takes 120 volunteers about 4 hours and about 600,000 begonia flowers to compose the carpet. The show is spectacular, but don’t miss your flight, as it lasts only three and a half days!