47 (July 1980, pages 182 - 183)
Cane-like begonias: like bamboo with flowers
If you ever have seen an "angel wing" begonia, you
know the cane-like group. So-called angel wings comprise a large portion
of the classification.
Cane-like begonias have long stems with slightly
swollen joints ("nodes")-they resemble bamboo. The leaves and flowers
arise from the joints. With optimum care, some cultivars can reach six
feet or more in height in a container, as much as 15 feet or so in the
ground in mild winter areas. Others remain short enough for indoor
Many people find them easier to grow than some other
kinds, such as Rex Cultorum and tuberous types which have special
Cane-like begonias are grown for both foliage, which
sometimes is spotted or textured, and flowers, usually large, cascading
clusters of white, pink, red, or orange, for a large part of the year.
Timing varies from variety to variety.
The classification is subdivided into three types:
Superba, with deeply cut foliage sometimes spotted; Mallet, with maroon or
deep rose leaves; and all others. Among the cane-like begonias are B.
albo-picta, B. 'Irene Nuss', B. 'Lenore Olivier', B.
lubbersii, B. 'Lucerna', B. 'Sophie Cecile', and
B. 'Tingley Mallet'.
The best place to grow a cane-type begonia is in
bright light -- even sunny if the sun isn't intensely hot. It's best to
use a standard-size pot to accommodate a large root system, making it a
clay or wooden container to provide the weight necessary to keep a tall
plant from falling over. If you use a plastic pot, take measures to keep
Plant in rich, humusy mix. Cane-type begonias tolerate
a heavy mix to support tall growth. (Most other begonias require a
coarser, more porous mix.) Water when the soil surface is nearly dry to
the touch. Never overwater. A balanced fertilizer (one containing
nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) may be applied at half-strength twice
as often as recommended on the label whenever the plant is in growth.
Most cane-like begonias are not fussy about
temperature or humidity. Any range that is comfortable for people is fine.
If leaves brown and get crisp on the edges, the humidity is too low. If
leaves yellow and fall off, you are watering too often. These begonias
rarely need staking, but require pruning in winter or early spring: remove
old, woody canes and shorten green ones to about four or five nodes, some
canes longer and others shorter. (New canes just starting should be left
alone.) Repot into fresh mix at the same time.
During the growing season, judicious tip pinching will
keep overly vigorous canes in bounds and promote growth of new canes from
the base. (Cane-type begonias rarely branch above soil level.)
As begonias go, canes are relatively free of insects
and diseases when plants are healthy and tended properly. Many believe any
apparent ailment should be diagnosed specifically, then treated with the
least toxic product that will work. Often a water spray, hand picking, or
an insecticide derived from natural ingredients (Dipel, pyrethrins,
rotenone) will do the trick without endangering beneficial insects,
animals, or humans. Always follow label directions exactly. Some
collectors prefer to prevent infestations altogether through a more
extensive chemical program. If you have questions, consult an experienced
begonia grower, a competent nurseryman or nurserywoman, or a Cooperative
Extension agent in your county.
The easiest and most reliable method of propagating
cane-type begonias is from stem cuttings. Take a tip cutting with two to
four nodes -- root it in a rooting medium such as perlite or sand. Species
can be grown from seed, as can hybrids -- but hybrid seed produces plants
not identical to the parent.
B. 'Marguerite DeCola', a cane-line begonia.
Photo by Chuck Anderson.