With over one thousand species and thousands of cultivars the Begonia family is known mostly for its ornamental uses although in some countries a few have their leaves used as a vegetable green and the roots used as medicine.
Begonias come from many tropical and subtropical parts of the world but are not found in the native plants of Australasia and most of the islands of the Pacific Ocean.
Begonias were first named by a Franciscan monk and botanist named Charles Plumier who found six plants in the West Indies. He named the genus after Michel Began, his patron and Governor of Haiti, in 1690.
The species here is Begonia boliviensis from northern Argentina and Bolivia where one article describes it as “spectacular growing on the rocky cliffs”. This begonia was first found and sent to England by Richard Pearce, a plant hunter for the Chelsea firm of James Veitch and Son of England. He found three other species – B. pearcii (yellow), B. veitchii ( orange-red ) and B. rosaeflora (or B. rosiflora) (pink to white. This is now thought to be a form of B. veitchii). These four species have been the original parents for many of the hybrid begonias available today.
- boliviensis is a tuberous type of begonia which is deciduous here over the winter time. In the spring vigorous, cascading, branching shoots, growing up to a metre long, appear and very quickly give rise to drooping, bright and cheery, orange to orange –red flowers hanging from the axils of the leaves. These continue to appear over the summer time while growth is happening.
The leaves are a light green with the serrated edges being finely lined with red.
The plant is very drought tolerant and can be grown in full sun or light shade or as a house plant.
This plant lends itself to mass planting in the warmer parts of NZ or as a potted plant for great summer colour wherever there is plenty of light.
Interestingly in my research I find that my plant is probably a cultivar called “Bonfire” which is registered by plant patent with NZ Institute for Crop and Food Research Ltd in Palmerston North in 2004.