Saturday, July 21, 2012

Begonia Boliviensis

View of south patio with pots of Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire' surrounding Ensete ventricosa 'Maurellii'

Closeup of pots of Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire'
     There are a number of begonias, which we normally think of as non hardy plants here, which are indeed  hardy for us.  One of these is Begonia boliviensis, a tuberous begonia which hails from high elevations in the Andes of Bolivia and Argentina.  Plant Delights Nursery lists this as hardy to zone 7b which is a colder climate than ours.  However, although I have grown various plants of Begonia boliviensis for probably 10 years, I have never tried this one in the ground so I cannot say from personal experience that it is hardy here.   These are not expensive plants and they are easily found at local nurseries so perhaps I will try them in the ground one of these days.
     The plants you see in the pictures are ones I bought last year in 4 inch pots at Bainbridge Gardens and they were labeled as Begonia 'Bonfire'.  This is a form of Begonia boliviensis, although I do not know if it differs from the straight species which I have grown in the past.  It does not look much different from the straight species to my eye.  Sometimes growers slap fancy names on straight species of plants in a marketing attempt.  I have seen another variant of Begonia boliviensis in nurseries this year which did appear to be slightly different in that the leaves were darker.  I need to buy some of those!
     Begonia boliviensis is a tuberous begonia, and, in fact, it is one of the ancestors of the fancy tubrous begonias that you see in nurseries and hanging pots.  Over time, it will form a very large tuber indeed.  I have had tubers over a foot in diameter formed over time on this plant. 
     The reason I haven't grown this plant in the ground is that I think it makes a great pot plant because of the way the flowers will hang out over the edge of the pot.  I think that it would just be lost out in the jungle of the garden if it were in the ground, whereas in a pot it shines.  Also, it appreciates good living in the summer--i.e., it likes being adequately watered and fertilized, and I can do that better when it is in a pot. 
     These begonias are quite easy to winter over.  I just take the pot into my sunroom and forget about them until the spring when I bring them out and start watering and fertilizing them again.  In the winter when they are inside they can be left to go dormant.  They need no water or light and all the foliage will die away.  I have been told that they will go dormant no matter what you do in the winter, but I have never tried to keep them from going dormant, so I cannot attest to this based on personal experience.
     These begonias are easy from seed and a lot of seed is continually set all summer long.  It is tiny seed, almost like light brown dust and it should be sowed on the surface of the pot and kept constantly moist.  Germination should be fast and if you do this you will have more plants than you know what to do with.  Cuttings can also be taken, but they must be done early enough in the year to form a tuber before winter or else, I have been told, they will not return after going into dormancy.
     I would highly recommend growing these begonias because over time they make impressive plants in pots, they are easy care, and the hummingbirds love them.


  1. Hi Linda -- I miss seeing your garden in the summer, I used to enjoy it so much when I had garden tours. I was just outside admiring my begonia boliviensis and then I read your post. It is a great plant.

    I just read all of your July posts, and every one of them is about a great plant. I came across your blog when I was looking for info on germinating restio tetraphyllus seed. This restio grew happily for me for many years, but it turned brown last summer. I think I let it get too dry. In any case, your posting on restios inspired me to try some other species. If I can find them.

    Like many other folks posting here, I miss the old Heronswood. I got one of the schefflera taiwaniana/Monrovia plants a couple years ago, but was too worried about it freezing to put it in the ground. I think I'll go ahead and give it a shot. My unheated greenhouse is pretty small, so I want to get more things in the ground. I still move my cussonia paniculata in there in the winter.

    Look forward to many more great posts -- and photos!

    Mary G. (NW Garden News)

    1. Hi Mary- good to hear from you! I got burned out on garden tours and so have not opened my garden in the last few years. Also, I was too busy learning photography. How are all your South African bulbs? Are you still growing them? I have recently gotten some Boophanes which I will have a future post about.

  2. Hi Linda -- I can imagine how garden tours could get old. You have to garden on someone else's schedule.

    Yes, I'm still growing the South African bulbs. I've kind of veered off on a clivia-growing tangent. I brought some seeds home from my trip, and once they started blooming I was hooked. They are very easy to grow from seed. But I still have the smaller bulbs--the species gladiolus, sparaxis, and others.

    I love boophanes--I think the foliage is the best part, though the flower is lovely. I assume you are growing them in containers? I haven't grown them from seed, I expect it takes a while to get them to a good size. Where did you find bulbs? I look forward to your post about them!

  3. Hi Linda,

    I think that 'Bonfire' is a selection of b. boliviensis that was named, produced en masse (tissue culture)and marketed in a big way a few years ago by Tesselaar. Then came 'Bellfire' and this year, 'Bonfire scarlett.' 'Bonfire' most closely resembles the species to my eye as well. I've also grown the species from Plant Delights and Dig and have found them all equally tough as nails, give them the same treatment as you and agree that they look best in pots. They are hardy in the ground but prefer drier soil in the winter; too wet and the tubers tend to rot. They're also quite late (mid June at least) to emerge when planted in the ground so in my tiny, cluttered garden, if not well marked, the tubers tend to get sliced through with a shovel as I plant new treasures found at the spring plant sales. Really, who wants a big bare spot in his/her garden for that long?

    Do you still grow Solanum quitoense? I remember seeing pictures of it in your garden and still haul one in and out each year, each time thinking, "this will be the fall I leave it outside."


    1. Hi Peter- thanks for the info on this. As for Solanum quitoense, you have reminded me that I used to grow it. I haven't had it for a few years, primarily because if I have to water a plant over the winter in my sunroom, it probably won't survive. Solanum quitoense must have bit the dust one winter for lack of water. Either that or I got tired of bringing it in for the winter. I congratulate you on keeping it alive. Linda

  4. Thank you very much for your tips and observations. Thanks to you, my begonia boliviensis survived the winter and is now coming back to life again. Yours sincerely. Anna (