The National Begonia Society




Tim Jemmott

Begonia Species



Commercial sources of species begonias are somewhat limited. The RHS Plant Finder lists only 45 species of 2387 cultivars. I came across Jeff Rhodes Species and Hybrids section on the NBS website whilst searching for Begonia plants on the internet. I contacted Jeff Rhodes and Robert Bryce some months ago hoping they had sources of Begonias I haven't found. Jeff Rhodes expressed the opinion that he suspects there are a lot of people in the UK growing species and hybrid begonias in isolation. Jeff, who has a large collection of species and hybrids himself, is keen to establish a plant exchange system going for Begonia species and hybrids within the NBS and I have agree to support this and would encourage others to participate. Robert asked me if I would write a cultural diary for 2016 and after some consideration I decided this would be a good opportunity to share my experience and enthusiasm for growing species Begonias.

The family Begoniaceae is the sixth largest family of flowering plants. It is divided into three genera the largest of which are the Begonias. There are over 1500 recorded Begonia species. These species are further divided into sections for purposes of classification. Begonias were introduced into UK towards the end of the 18th century, The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew receiving its first Begonia plant in 1777. The earliest recorded Begonia hybrid [Begonia Ricinifolia] was grow in England1847. Despite this long history of growing Begonias in Britain they have become unfashionable in resent years. The RHS Plant Finder 2014 only lists 1 species in section Gireoudia compared to 14 in 2004.

I have been growing and collecting Begonias for many years. The one that got me hooked was a Begonia bowerae hybrid purchased around 1977 with 50p postal order my Great Aunt had sent me for a Birthday present. Over the years this interest has grown and I have built up a collection of 60 Begonia species and hybrids. As I have researched the subject in greater depth it has become apparent that the major of my Begonias belong to the section Gireoudia from Mexico and Central America.
 To grow these plants I have joined the American Begonia Society [ABS],  the  Association of Australian Begonia Societies[AABS], and the French Association of Amateur Begonia Growers [AFABEGO] as these societies sell seeds to members. To find the AFABEGO extensive seed list access the website in French [if you look at it via google to translate the seed list does not open. It took me a long time to work that out!]. The links tab on the NBS website will also take you to ABS, AABS and AFABEGO websites. These websites contain a lot of information on all aspects of growing begonias. Another good resource for information on begonia species and their hybrids is the International Database of the BEGONIACEAE there are links on the ABS and AABS websites.

My particular interest Begonias section Gireoudia is comprised of 65-70 plants which are found in Mexico and Central America. Around 40 are known to cultivation [Tebbitt 2005]. The plants of this section typically have flowers with 2 tepals and trilocular ovaries. Many species within this section have distinctive hairs [trichomes]. Most of the species are rhizomatous, but, there are also thick stem, scandent and shrub-like forms within this section. Leaf morphology within this section is extremely diverse; from Begonia nelumbifolia with its large rhizome, peltate leafs, long petioles covered with small white hairs; the hirsute rougose follage of Begonia carrieae; the trailing form of Begonia mazae with its distinctively patterned leafs; the thick fleshy leafs of Begonia peltata covered with small white hairs adaptation reflect sunlight and reduce water loss; to the compound palmate leaves of B. thiemei and B carolineifolia. This diversity has lead to this section of begonias being very popular with the hybridists.

Begonias grow in many tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. They exploit many different habitats from sea level to altitudes of 3000m. They generally grow in places with poor thin soils [cliff faces, rocky river banks, 1 and 2 forest and as epiphytes. Most species and hybrid Begonias, however, can be grown under relatively standard conditions: temperatures between 13C 25C; relative humidity of 40-60%; good light; and good drainage are essential. There are of course many species which will require more specialised conditions and even a few that are hardy in the UK. I have B. sikkimensis and B. grandis growing happily in my garden. B. grandis dies down each year, but, comes back in the late spring. Most rhizomatous species will continue all grow all year provided conditions are optimum. If temperatures drop, however, plants may go into a dormant state. Some species are deciduous e.g. B. crassicaulis this plant requires a dry dormant period before it flowers.

I live in south-east London and work for the NHS as a specialist hospital podiatrist. I grow my plants in a lean-to conservatory at the back of my home in and in a spare bedroom under lights. The conservatory faces west, it is double glazed and heated to a minimum night time temperature of 15C. Over the next year I will try to explain what I do from a practical point of view to grow these plants.

If I can encourage a few people to have a go and grow a Begonia species or two then all the better.


B. nelumbifolia

B. carrieae

B. crassicaulis

My conservatory

B. mazae var. mazae

B. sikkimensis

B. peltata & B. thiemei

B. carolineifolia

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