sunset on French Antilles island of Guadeloupe

Thanks for the begonia, now what does this mean?

Beware if someone gives you a begonia! In the Victorian language of flowers, begonias are intended to be warning. This may be why they are common wedding presents! However, many in the West also see them as a sign of gratitude, which would stand to reason, since the entire species was named by the Franciscan monk/botanist who discovered them in the Caribbean and the French Antilles after being sent on an expedition by politician Michel Begon.

What a kind and gracious thing to do! Now what is the warning all about? With about 1,800 different plant species in the genus Begoniaceae, these pretty plants are and easy to grow, especially as a year-round flowering indoor plant.

Many professional begonia growers, especially those associated with the American Begonia Society, will tell you to start with a 4-inch plant, and within a year, it will be big enough for a plant show. But if raising plants for shows isn’t your thing, just think about this in terms of how quickly you can have a thriving plant producing pretty pink, white, yellow, or scarlet flowers with really interesting leaves. And those flowers aren’t really petals, but sepals, a leaf that protects a flower bud.

And as pretty as those sepals are, the leaves can be one of the most interesting parts of the plant. While the most common begonias have disc-shaped leaves with protective, hair-like fuzz on them, there are also plants called angel wings or dragon wings because of the shape of their leaves. One type even has a nautilus pattern over the edges of a tear-drop shaped leaf!

nautilus leaf pattern of a begonia

Potting a begonia–nothing to worry about

As we mentioned above, begonias are very easy to grow and do well in most conditions, despite being a subtropical and tropical plant. However, considering where this plant grows wild will help with knowing how to care for it. The begonia is an understory plant and sometimes even epiphytic in South and Central America, Africa, and southern Asia. They do best in a well-draining potting mix in a pot with good drainage holes.

Begonias can be tuberous, fibrous or rhizomatous, so for growing indoors, be sure to go with the ones that come from seeds or rhizomes. The begonias from tubers need a high amount of humidity, so unless you live in a warm and very humid place, you’ll want to stick with the other two.

So once you’ve chosen your plant, your container, and your potting mix, fill your container about half full with moist potting mix, gently remove the plant from its greenhouse container and place it in the pot. Cover the roots with more moist potting mix and water well. That’s it. Easy, right?

Watering begonias–here’s your warning!

While all plants suffer when they are over-watered, begonias are especially prone to root rot. And yet allowing them to dry out completely can damage the plant as well. So aim for a happy medium. Keep them moist like the jungle floor, but don’t let them float away in a flood.

Humidity is the other thing to consider when growing a tropical plant. Begonias like something between 40% and 80% humidity, with 60% being the best for them. So if you live in a dry climate, put them on a pebble tray and keep it wet. (This means you, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah!)

Sunlight for begonias–change it up

With 1,800 different varieties of begonias with similar needs otherwise, the one thing that is different for them is the light they require. As a general rule of thumb, they prefer bright shade, if you can imagine such a thing. Again, think of the jungle floor, the searing sun filtering through the canopy above. A corner of a south or east facing room where you can keep the direct sunlight off of the plant will be ideal. You can also follow the rule of thumb that the lighter colored the leaves are, the more light the plant will want.

close-up of light pink begonias

And mind the temperature as well. That canopy in the jungle also eases the heat of the sun, and with begonias growing on the floor of the jungle, they like to be where it’s a bit cooler. They will tolerate between 40 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit, but they prefer to be a bit more in the middle of that range.

A sum of the the begonia warning

It seems as if the strongest warnings a begonia brings with it is how to care for it. Don’t over water or let it dry out, and don’t place it in strong, direct sunlight. There has been a question about toxicity, but the jury is out on a ruling for this one. In large doses, the begonia can be toxic, so keep your kids and pets away. However, there are many places around the world where people do eat them (including our own country), but we don’t recommend it.

And perhaps the reason this plant carries a warning and is given for wedding presents is to remind us to tend to our marriages as carefully as we tend to our plants. Wishing you love and healthy plants!