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Home > Virtual Greenhouse > Types of Begonias

Types of Begonias
by Brad Thompson

Canes

Cane begonias have been popular plants for many years and were probably grown by your Grandmother who called them "Angel Wing" begonias. Many types have been created since then and those grown by your Grandmother are probably still in cultivation. There are several types of canes in varying sizes but they all have in common tough stems that have a bamboo appearance, which gives them the cane handle.

The superba canes generally grow the largest and can have leaves up to about 14 inches long and can grow to 12 feet high. They are usually kept smaller and more compact than that though. They have leaves that are cleft and most types have silver spots or splashes on them. They have large flower clusters and some are fragrant. They are most popular in the southern states where they are grown outdoors in frost free areas but can also be grown quite well indoors or in a greenhouse. Two begonia hybridizers, Irene Nuss and Belva Kusler created many of the first superbas to become popular, and Irene's hybrid B. 'Irene Nuss' and Belva's B. 'Sophie Cecile' are the two most widely circulated superbas of all time.

The other most popular type of cane is the type formally called "angel wing" begonias. These come in every size from types commonly grown in baskets to large upright plants but all have the familiar pointed leaf shape that gave them their former common name. This type is still widely grown and many new hybrids are created every year. Many have silver spotted/splashed leaves and some have different serrated edges. Most are heavy bloomers, some even ever bloomers.

There are other types which fall somewhere between the two types mentioned above. There are also the mallet type canes. These are not as widely grown because they are more tender. They have leaves in various colors, most purple, pink or white. They are spectacular looking.

Shrubs

The shrub type is also very variable and can range in size from miniatures to giants 12 feet tall. Some varieties have leaves up to 24 inches long under perfect conditions. The leaf surface is also variable and some have smooth shiny leaves and other types have hairy or felted leaves. This type gets its name from the way it grows with many shoots coming up from the soil to make a full plant like any other shrub you would grow. They are very multi-stemmed.

Most varieties do not bloom as often or as heavily as the cane type but there are many that are ever blooming and are used as bedding plants across the country. The shrub type is grown mostly for its ease of growing, interesting leaves, and full growth. Most shrubs have white flowers but there are plenty of pink and red ones also, and many have hairy flowers.

Rhizomatous

The rhizomatous types are grown mostly for their interesting leaves and compact growth but they have the added bonus of a massive display of flowers, usually in the spring, that cover the whole plant. Most are spring blooming but there are a few that bloom all year. They range in size from tiny miniature to large plants like B. 'Freddie' that can have 3 foot leaves under optimum conditions (one growing outdoors in Hawaii grew that large). The plants can also grow very large across but don't reach great height, because they grow from rhizomes that creep along the ground, which gives this type its name.

The rhizomatous types are popular all across the country and one in particular B. 'Erythrophylla' was probably grown by your Grandmother, who called it a beef steak begonia because of its large round leaves. (I know I've said grown by your Grandmother several times. I don't want to give you the impression that begonias are only grown by grandmothers, I only want to reacquaint you with past memories and give you an idea of how long begonias have been around.) Some types of rhizomatous have intricate patterns on their leaves in almost any earth tone color and silver, some are hairy leaved, some are round and shiny, and some are star shaped. There is really no end to the variety of leaf shape, color and texture in this type of begonia, there is something for every taste.

Semperflorens

This type of begonia is probably the most widely grown begonia and in some parts of the country is called "wax type" because of the waxy look to the leaves. These begonias are grown mostly as bedding plants and annuals but are really a perennial shrub type of begonia in areas that don't freeze. All have round leaves and are ever blooming and the flowers come in every shade of red, pink and white. The leaves come mostly in two colors, green and bronze, but there are variegated types such as B. `Charm' and calla types with new leaves that come out white. The flowers come in single and double types. Some of the specie semperflorens have felted white or brown leaves.

Tuberous

The tuberous type of begonia is also very popular around the world as a bedding plant and also as a greenhouse plant. In some countries such as England it is the main type grown. The tuberous types are grown for their flowers although there are a few varieties and species, which have interesting leaves and growth. The flower size can range from small 1/2 inch flowers to the large exhibition types that can have flowers the size of dinner plates. The flowers range in type from singles to full doubles and come in every color except shades of blue. There are even flowers with different color edges and some are scented. The plant types range from trailing types that are grown in hanging baskets with pendulant flowers to sturdy upright plants.

The tuberous types grow from tubers and go dormant during short days during the fall and winter. They are restarted in the spring. Another related type is the semi-tuberous which don't have a tuber but which form a caudex at the base. This caudex is like a large swollen stem from which many smaller stems grow. Most semi-tuberous have small leaves and small white flowers, but at least a couple are pink. They make almost a natural bonsai with their swollen base and small stems and leaves.


Rexes (Rex Cultorum)

Rex begonias are the showboats of the begonia world and are a type of rhizomatous begonia that are grown for their multicolored leaves. Their leaves come in every color, pattern and shade, and every size and shape. All Rex Cultorum types are descended from the Indian specie B. rex that was crossed with other types of rhizomatous begonias. Rex begonias do bloom but are not grown for their blooms, which pale in comparison to their spectacular leaves.

Trailing/Scandent

The trailing type of begonias is grown mostly for the trailing habit but also put on a spectacular show of flowers, usually in the spring. Some of the newer varieties have a longer blooming period or are ever blooming. Most have glossy leaves and look like a philodendron, but there are types that get large leaves and will climb. In their native habitat these types will climb up the trunks of trees. Most of the trailing types have white or pink flowers.

Thick-stemmed

The thick-stemmed types are not as widely grown but come in various forms. The common factor between them is their very thick stems. Most thick-stemmed types don't branch much but send up new growth from the base. They also show off the thick stems because they drop their lower leaves and usually only have leaves on the tips. These can be very attractive and are definitely unusual if you're looking for something different to grow.

 

 


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