Year of the Begonia
Each year the National Garden Bureau selects one annual, one perennial, and one edible as their “Year of the” crops. Each is chosen because they are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile.
With over 1,700 different species, Begonias (of the family Begoniaceae) are the fifth most diverse class of plants. Begonias are often found wild from South and Central America to India.
Begonias officially got their name in 1690 when French botanist Charles Plumier named them after fellow botanist Michel Bégon.
Many types of begonias are produced from cuttings because seed production can be challenging. In 1873, Benary, a developer and breeder, introduced Magnifica, the first tuberous begonia from seed, but it did not branch well so was not easy to produce. In 1909, Benary introduced the world’s first heterosis (F1-hybrid) ornamental begonia, Begonia semperflorens ‘Prima Donna’ bred by Gustav Besoke. The introduction of F1 hybrid begonias revolutionized the horticulture industry by allowing growers to produce begonias reliably on a commercial scale.
In 1972, Nonstop begonias became the first F1 hybrid tuberous begonia series from seed that featured huge double flowers in lots of bright colors. After more than 30 years of improvements, Nonstop begonias are still the bestselling tuberous begonia on the market.
In 1998, Pin-Up Flame won an AAS award, a large bi-colored single flowered tuberosa begonia. Another exciting introduction was the Big and Whopper Begonia series. These begonias provide an amazing show of color all season, and are easy to grow. They thrive in both sun and shade, take little fertilization and only require about an inch of water per week.
Varieties Mainly Used Today
Here are some of the major classes that you will find in North American garden retailers:
• Begonia semperflorens-cultorum or “wax begonias” are the most common. Plants are small (8 to 12 inches) mounds with rounded leaves and blooms.
• Begonia tuberosa (tuberous begonias) have large flowers in a broad color range. Flowers can be huge and double. Since the plants are monoecious, there are always both single (male) and double (female) flowers on the same plant. The leaves are asymmetrical, hairy or fuzzy and have a serrated edge.
• Begonia boliviensis is more heat tolerant than other types. The plant branches cascade down in hanging baskets or window boxes. The leaves are similar in shape to tuberous begonias but are narrower and smooth. The flower has long, strap-like petals forming a soft trumpet.
• Begonia hiemalis, also called elatior or Reiger begonia, typically have small-to-medium double flowers in a wide range of colors.
• Begonia masoniana has bold color patterns on leaves that are textured with puckers and appear coarse.
• Begonia rhizomatous has thick, fleshy stems with large, colorful leaves. The leaves can be round or heavily lobed like a grape leaf. Some have small white flowers in the spring, and a few varieties bloom all summer.
• Begonia rex are grown for their beautiful leaves, which are quite hairy or fuzzy and usually covered with multicolored, intricate swirled designs.
There are two varieties of wax or semperflorens begonias, Monza and Havana, that are well-liked for their nonstop flowering, numerous flower colors and leaves in either green (Monza) or bronze (Havana). Bada Bing and Bada Boom, also both wax begonias, are popular picks due to their sun tolerance and continuous blooming.
Begonia tuberosa series include the popular Fortune, a tuberous basket type that offers stunning blooms throughout the season, or the Pudding series, which offers large blooms with a super bushy habit.
For a heat tolerant begonia that brings continuous blooms, look to the boliviensis series including Bossa Nova, a well-branched plant that looks stunning in a large container or hanging basket. Santa Cruz Sunset and Bonfire are additional favorites with their heat and drought tolerant orange-red blooms that cascade over the container.
If you are looking for large-leaf plants, there are Jurassic-Rex begonias known for their bold colors and patterns. The T-Rex series is another Rex hybrid that can be grown in cooler temperatures.
Due to the seed size and environmental requirements for germination, begonias today are usually grown by a professional grower in a greenhouse and sold as a small plant.
Source: National Garden Bureau