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Gardening 101: All About Begonias

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - In the mix of summer flowers, I almost always include some begonias. I like how they hold their flower through the heat. Breeders provide the dark leaf variety for full sun and a light green variety for shaded areas. The plants are relatively cheap, and you can buy them by the tray.

But if that is all you know about begonias, then you don't know begonias.

What you see in the garden center is a commercialized version of a very successful, versatile species of flowering plant that is found along the tropical belt of the world. There are hundreds of discovered varieties divided among eight different families of the plant. And the variety of the begonia is breathtaking; you could easily put some right next to each other and not have a clue they are from the same family of flowering perennial tropical plants.

If you don't believe me, you can see for yourself. Sort of. The biggest collection of begonias is stored at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. The plants are kept in two different greenhouses that sit just off the Japanese Garden. One greenhouse is for the hybrids (versions of begonias breed for looks but not found in nature). The other is for species of begonias, plants actually found in the wild. The species are carefully breed to retain a seed bank for these plants. The seeds are sent down to Houston for permanent storage.

The greenhouses are in a "working" area of the garden, off limits to visitors. You can get a tour of the begonia collection by appointment if you ask.

Another great way to enjoy this world class begonia collection is to buy in. They sell a large quantity of hybrid begonias of many varieties in their annual plant sale. There is one this coming Friday/Saturday (April 8th-9th). I will warn you, come VERY early if you want to buy a begonia. People have been known to travel very far to get to this sale, they almost always sell out.

Since a begonia is a tropical plant, they can be grown in the outdoors (in partial shade at least if not complete shade) during our summers. They have to winter indoors next to a window to survive into the next year. They can live for decades, but do like moderate to high humidity so if you have a window in the bathroom that would be ideal.

If you can get ahold of one of the rare examples of this plant, I promise it will dazzle your friends. Some examples of these beauties are simply breathtaking, most of their attraction is in their unusual leaf structure and color. And when you tell them it is a version of the commercialized begonia they'll likely won't believe you at first.


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