Quiet charm

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Now that orchids have quit hogging the spotlight, begonias can take a bow.

A pendant cluster of female
begonia flowers.

They have been blooming for several weeks, showing delicate white or pink flowers with understated charm. You’ll find them in the Moos Sunken Garden, along the path near Standing Gorilla, in the rainforest and by the Visitors Center.  They have eye-catching asymmetrical leaves and male or female flowers. The female flowers have winged inferior ovaries, just beneath the stigmas and tepals (sepals and petals that are alike are referred to as tepals). Some flowers are pendant, while others are held upright.

Male flowers on the cultivar
Caribbean King.

Begonias have been cultivated for hundreds of years. Mark Tebbet, in his book Begonias, says the Chinese have grown them since 1400.  Widespread throughout the tropics and subtropics, the first begonia to reach Europe arrived at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, near London, in the late 18th Century. Then, beginning in 1835, the development of the Wardian Case or portable glass house made it possible to keep plants humid and protected during shipping, and more and more of the 1,500 species made it into cultivation.

Many rhizomatous and cane-type begonias make good landscape plants for South Florida gardens. They like sun or shade, regular watering and slow-release fertilizer. The cane types easily will reach several feet in height, while rhizomatous begonias will spread to make great groundcovers.