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Begonias

Begonia belongs to Begoniaceae family. Begonia has as many as 1000 known and identified species, plus countless hundreds of hybrids of various types.

In their natural environment, begonias grow in rain forests and in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, often at high altitudes. They are found on all continents, with the exception of Europe and Australia.

The majority of all begonias fall into the succulent category and are therefore susceptible to frosts in cooler regions, but this does not preclude them from being grown in these areas with suitable protection, over-wintering, or as annuals. Begonias are grouped into three main categories according to their root structure, namely fibrous, rhizomatous, and tuberous or bulbous.

Botanical terms

Genus is the name given to plants united by distinct common characteristics, e.g., the genus Begonia. A genus is a member of a still larger botanical grouping called a family, and for begonias this is the Begoniaceae. Within each genus are many species. Individual plants of a species are alike and can breed with each other, breeding true from seed, although they can also be propagated from cuttings.

The species name follows immediately after the name of the genus to which it belongs, e.g., Begonia sutherlandii, or in the abbreviated form B. sutherlandii, where the genus is begonia and the species is sutherlandii. The name of a species is always written in lower case letters, never capitals, and the genus and these words are usually set in italics. A smaller subdivision within a species is a subspecies, indicated in its name by the letters ssp., e.g., B. grandis ssp. evansiania, and yet another small subdivision, exemplified in the name B. cucullata var hookeri, indicates that this is a variety that differs slightly in its botanical structure.

A hybrid is a plant derived from the interbreeding or cross-fertilization of two different species or their variants. This may be the result of either intentional or accidental crossing. A hybrid specifically cultivated for horticultural or garden purposes is known as a cultivar or variety. Most hybrids or cultivars have to be reproduced by vegetative methods such as cuttings (cloning), as their seeds do not come true, and a good number of these plants are, in fact, sterile.

Origins

Historical documents show that the genus later known as Begonia had been discovered and classified under different names. One of these early finds was a plant which, although discovered in Mexico before 1577 by one Father Francisco Hernandez, was known only after 1651. This plant, a tuberous species, was given the name totoncaxoxo coyollin (subsequently identified as B. gracilis). However, even as early as the 14th century, Chinese writings describe a plant now identified as B. grandis Dryander.

In 1690, Charles Plumier, a Franciscan Monk and botanist, discovered six plants in the West Indies, none of which fitted into any genus known at that time. The descriptions and botanical drawings allowed their identification as a totally new genus, which Plumier then dedicated to his patron, Michel Begon, hence the genus name, Begonia. Begon, who had a strong interest in botany, was at that time Governor (Intendant) of Haiti.

Since that time, many species have been discovered, and discoveries continue to this day. It was, however, in the latter part of the 19th century that four separate finds led to a big rise of interest in begonias among horticulturists and collectors. This led in turn to the development of hybrids of the four more popular groups of begonias grown today.

The Rex ancestors
In England in 1856, there was a chance discovery among some imported orchids from Assam, India, of a begonia with amazing leaf patterns. This new species was quickly recognized and given the name Begonia rex Putzey, Rex meaning "king" in Latin. The potential for commercial development because of the stunning leaves led to much hybridization, giving us what is known today as the Rex Cultorum group.
Bedding begonias' origins
Another major discovery occurred in 1821, again by chance, when the species Begonia semperflorens (B. cucullata var hookeri) was found in some soil around plants brought out of Brazil to the Berlin Botanic Gardens. Its commercial potential was only recognized in the late 1870s, when it was crossed with a recently discovered species, B. schmidtiana. This produced the beginnings of the Semperflorens group, also popularly known as Wax or Bedding begonias.
Winter houseplants
The potential for the development of winter-flowering begonias was recognized following the discovery in 1880 of one such, Begonia socotrana, by Issac Balfour on the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean. This, the only begonia species in the bulbous class, was crossed with summer-flowering tuberous types. The result was a winter-flowering begonia with tuberous characteristics, the name Hiemalis being adopted for the group in 1933. The Rieger strain, developed by Otto Rieger in 1955, is more floriferous and resistant to mildew. Progress continues with the development of more hybrids in this popular group.
Tuberhybrida
About 1850, Henderson's nursery introduced Begonia cinnabarina, discovered in Bolivia. It has small orange flowers displayed on tall erect stems, and large leaves.
Begonias.jpg
Non-tuberous begonias
Tuberous begonias
Cultivation of tuberous begonias
Propagation of begonias
Pests, Diseases and Disorders of Begonias
In the 1860s, a number of tuberous species were found high in the forests of Bolivia and Peru, in the Andes of South America. Of these plants, the following four were discovered by Richard Pearce, who worked for the Chelsea firm of James Veitch & Son. Begonia boliviensis was discovered in Bolivia. It has long slender stems with narrow scarlet flowers and was a major influence in the breeding of today's Pendula begonias.
Begonia pearcei was also discovered in Bolivia and is very compact. Like B. boliviensis, this begonia is still grown today. It has wonderful, dark green leaves with a velvet texture and very marked veins. The small, bright yellow flowers add interest, as it is the only yellow among the tuberous species. Its introduction into the breeding programs led to today's yellows.
Begonia veitchii, collected in Peru, is another compact plant. The flowers are bright red-orange. They have rounded petals and are displayed on strong erect stalks well above the foliage. Both these characteristics have been passed on to modern hybrids. This variety is still grown by collectors.
Begonia rosiflora (or B. rosaeflora according to some authorities) comes from Peru and has small pink flowers, although a later sport or mutation produced white blooms, helpful in developing white varieties. Nowadays, this species is generally considered to be the same as B. veitchii, since the two forms differ only slightly, the main difference being in flower color.

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