One long-overlooked beauty has been waiting to be rediscovered. This begonia is perfect for today's interiors. Over the last two decades, breeders have sought to coax the secrets of the rex begonia's gene pool.
Haute designers have grabbed tangerine red, eggplant and earth tones to define 2012's color palette.
This combination of richness and warm ocher may be found in wall paint, floral arrangements, upholstery fabrics and, now, plants. One long-overlooked beauty has been waiting to be rediscovered. This begonia is perfect for today's interiors.
Begonias have always hovered in the shadows beneath trees, in slotted shade of lath houses and on sun-deprived exposures. Common Begonia richmondensis in hanging baskets and little wax begonias for massed bedding are outdoor plants. Interiors are ruled by an old regal relative, affectionately known as rex.
Over the last two decades, breeders have sought to coax the secrets of the rex begonia's gene pool. Crossing old varieties have turned the leaves into a riot of color. Foliage colors, spots, stripes and textures make every single new variety a living work of art. When Escargot came out with its remarkable spiral leaf, the interior-plant crowd took notice. But this is only a moderately colored form from a wild and nearly wicked group of leaf producers.
Just as breeders sought to coax colored leaves from Heucheras formerly grown for their dainty flowers, the blossoms of rex begonias are often nipped in the bud to enhance foliage development.
The source of this popularity is simple. We want color all the time, not just when a plant blooms. As the rich autumn colors swept our garden and interiors trends, suddenly the begonias found their place. Reds, oranges, burgundies, deep magenta and a half dozen other odd shades are what make rex begonias so awesome. Until these came into style, the garish plants were left on the backburner, waiting to be noticed.
Rex begonias just love fluorescent lighting, so they can grow nicely in apartments or darker rooms with this illumination. They also thrive close to a bright window, but never in direct sun.
Botanically speaking, rex begonias are unique because they spring from a fleshy rhizome that sits just below the surface of the soil. They are sold either as a leafy houseplant or a less expensive dormant bare root bulb. This bulblike rhizome resembles that of bearded iris or fingerling potatoes and must have well-drained yet very moist conditions to thrive.
As the plants age, rhizomes grow longer. Over time, they may no longer fit in the pot, so the begonia must be repotted in a wider container that need not have greater depth as the roots remain shallow. The wider your pot, the longer the rhizome and the more abundant foliage becomes.
An overgrown rhizome may also be dug when dormant and divided into pieces. These are transplanted into smaller containers. They'll flesh out a porch or patio in the summer, then come in for winter beauty. They also make money-saving gifts for friends and family. If you know others who grow rex, use these rhizome segments to trade for new colors without spending a penny.
When repotting begonias, use African violet potting soil, which is formulated to resemble the soils beneath tropical forest canopies. Its texture, water holding ability and pH are ideal for these royal begonias.
If you don't yet own a rex or any other exotic begonia, consider buying one this year to add a little zing to a bright kitchen or bath. Visit a garden center to see the many fancy leaf forms of potted indoor plants. If you'd like more selection for less money, explore online. Begonias won't be shipped until after the risk of cold damage in transit is passed.
This year, rex begonias are coming out of the shadows to take center stage. Whether you grow them indoors, outdoors or both, they are the fast track to continuous color.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at email@example.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.