The Odd and Beautiful B.
by Freda Holley
My husband accuses me of
only having kooky people as friends, and I
must confess he's right although I prefer to
think of them as bright, quirky, and
interesting. I find that my taste in begonias
must run in the same direction. I realized
this when someone said to me of B. wollnyi,
"But, of course, it's not very
pretty." I was stunned because in the eye
of this beholder B. wollnyi is not
only beautiful it is fascinating.
In my mind, I group B.
wollnyi with the "tree trunk
begonias." For me, as it ages it has a
smooth lower trunk to about ten or twelve
inches and then there are usually a few
branches. The real appeal, however, is the
swollen base which is so reminiscent of our
trees here in the Ozarks whose lower trunks
swell and rise as they outgrow the thin top
soil and cannot penetrate the rock base below.
I prefer B. wollnyi for bonsai over other
begonias that share the trunk-like feature.
The B. dregei group are almost
perfect, but have the dreaded mildew problem.
I have never experienced mildew on B.
wollnyi. It is less finicky than B.
ludwigli which it resembles in some ways
and the trunk grows faster. My B. ludwigii
is three years old and the trunk is still
fairly short, it's leaves are really too large
in size for it's trunk to be a proper bonsai. B.
leathermaniae has the same problem, plus
it's trunk quickly grows too tall and develops
the cane-like nodes.
For me, both B.
wollnyi and B. ludwigii go
completely dormant in the winter and therefore
can sail through the unpleasant winter
conditions I have for them. Both can take the
warm central heat and, indeed, seem to
flourish in the spring because of the rest. B.
wollnyi can also take the cold, however,
where B. ludwigii cannot. Both of
these begonias share a characteristic with B.
crassicaulis that I also find appealing. B.
crassicaulis is one I have never seen
grouped with these trunk-like begonias, but
the ones I have grow straight up and the bare,
winter trunk is very reminiscent of a fat palm
tree. What all three of these share is that
they lose their leaves and then, in late
winter or early spring, send up their lovely
flower clusters from bare trunks.
My first B. wollnyi
plants were raised from seed fund seed planted
in the winter of 1991-92 and they have in turn
produced seed. Raising little B. wollnyi
is quite easy if one trick is observed. They
should be planted in winter in order to reach
a size by the following winter that they can
survive dormancy. I planted seed as soon as
they were harvested in the spring of 1994 and
had a regular little forest going by the next
winter. They were looking great under a
long-day light setup which I thought would
fool their calendar. Not so, the entire forest
suddenly shed its leaves one week. Only about
half recovered. I have one seedling this
winter that has not gone dormant under cool,
humid conditions. This may indicate that under
greenhouse conditions dormancy could be
My B. wollnyi
are summered outside with no particular
attention. Most of our summers are not hot,
our highs are usually in the upper eighties. I
suspect they would not like extreme heat since
they probably originated in the mountains.
Mildred Thompson lists B. wollnyi as
coming from Bolivia in 1909. B. williamsii,
a synonym, is shown from both Brazil and
Bolivia. In her book, it is listed as
"tuberous/semi-tuberous", but her
1994 Update observes a revision to
"thick-stemmed. trunk-like, non-
ramified" which places it in the same
category as B. ludwigii.
B. wollnyi has
28 chromosomes and all the hybrids I found
listed were with rhizomatous begonias except
two with B. malabarica. All the
off-spring are also classified as
"thick-stemmed, shrunk-like" except
one, B. Speckled Runabout', which is classed
as "semi-tuberous." Thus I suspect
the trunk-like feature is dominant. B. Silver
Comet', a cross with B. carriae
pictured on page 57 of the 1992 Begonian, is
particularly lovely. B. wollnyi
itself is shown on page 221 of the 1991
Begonian and earlier on page 180 in 1970. Both
of these have black and white photos which
cannot capture one of B. wollnyi's
best features, it's colorful leaves. They are
a bronzy green, splashed white, and palmately
lobed. The veins are raised and almost purple
near the sinus.
This begonia is a bit
mysterious. It is not mentioned by Chevalier,
L. H. Bailey, Brillmeyer, or Haring. Thompson
does not give any history on it and the
Begonian references are just seed fund
listings or descriptions. So, B. wollnyi
- quirky, interesting, and adaptable, has all
the qualifications to remain among my roster
of best begonia friends.
Freda Holley grows and
writes about begonias in Ozone AR. She is also
the editor of The Begonian.