Also known as the polka dot begonia, the spotted begonia, and the angel wing begonia, Begonia maculata is one of the most striking begonias. It was discovered and named by an Italian taxonomist in 1820, who chose the name using the Latin word "macula" which means spotted or mottled. The spotted, elongated leaves are a dark green color that sometimes ranges from olive to forest green. The spots are a pale grey to silver color, and the undersides of the leaves are a rich burnt orange color.
The plant's unique and colorful appearance, including flowers that range from white to pink to coral, is what makes it so popular among plant enthusiasts. However, it is a temperate, tropical perennial native to Central America and can only survive outdoors in zone 10 or above, making it hard to keep it going outdoors anywhere in the USA. Growing it indoors does have some challenges, as it is rather fussy about its growing conditions. But people who love this unusual plant agree it is worth the effort.
|Botanical Name||Begonia maculata|
|Common Name||Polka dot begonia, spotted begonia, clown begonia|
|Plant Type||Tropical perennial, evergreen|
|Mature Size||Up to 24 in. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Sun to part shade, indirect sunlight indoors|
|Soil Type||Moist, rich, well-drained, sandy loam|
|Soil pH||6.1 - 7.5 (mildly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||April to July|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||10-12 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||Asia, South Africa, Central America, Mexico|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs, cats and grazing animals|
Begonia Maculata Care
The Begonia maculata is a tropical plant and therefore requires certain elements of care for it to flourish indoors. The main aspects of its care that should take precedence are proper watering and well-draining soil; these will help prevent root rot, which can be a problem if the soil remains wet for too long. As your begonia grows, you will want to transfer it into a larger container, and/or refresh the soil from time to time. The best time to do this is in early spring before the active growing season. Wait to transplant until the soil no longer feels loose in the container; gently shake old soil from the roots and refresh the potting soil. Refreshing the soil helps cut back on unwanted pests and diseases. This plant also benefits from deadheading and clearing away of dried or rotted plant material. Keep the surface of the soil clean from debris as well.
This begonia does best in partial sunlight. Indirect sunlight is best indoors, near a window. You may want to relocate it occasionally as the sunlight moves around according to the seasons, especially in winter as daylight hours grow shorter.
The polka dot begonia prefers a moist, rich soil. Since it is most often grown in containers or indoors, a good potting mix should suffice, or a sandy loam soil. Be sure there is adequate drainage; this can be improved by adding some perlite.
It's very important not to overwater your begonia. Let soil dry out to about a half inch on the surface before watering. Overwatering can cause root rot which can eventually kill the plant. Watering no more than twice a week should be sufficient but this varies depending on humidity levels in your home also; you can gauge the right amount by checking the soil before watering.
Temperature and Humidity
This plant is rather fussy about its ideal temperature. Being a tropical, its perfect growing conditions should emulate its native areas. Temperatures between 65 and 70 are best. Temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit can cause the plant to wilt. Begonia maculata needs a steady level of humidity, but not too much (45 to 50%), so using a humidifier is advisable if your home tends to have dry air. Placing it in or near the bathroom or kitchen will help increase the humidity levels. Placing saucers of water near the plant can help keep humidity consistent also. However, too much humidity can cause problems such as mildew or fungal rot, so monitor your begonia for any issues.
A fertilizer can be used to help liven up the blooms on your polka dot begonia. A basic slow-release liquid fertilizer in a 10-10-10 formula should work fine; use this in spring and apply once every 2 to 3 weeks to increase blooms as needed.
Propagating Begonia Maculata
You can propagate this plant with small cuttings. The best timing for propagation is when there are the fewest flowers on the plant, such as late winter.
- Make a clean cut from the plant using scissors. Some gardeners recommend dabbing the cut spot with a bit of ground cinnamon to heal it and prevent any disease.
- Place the end of the cutting (the stem, not the leaf) in a glass container with filtered water in a spot with bright but indirect light. Change the water every 3 to 5 days. The roots take a while to grow so be patient; it may take several weeks to two months.
- You can then plant the rooted cutting in a container with a well-draining potting mix; water when the soil becomes dry, just as you would a mature begonia.
How to Get Begonia Maculata to Bloom
Under good growing conditions, this plant normally blooms from April to July, and sometimes there is a second period of bloom in late winter (January or February). This plant can bloom up to three times per calendar year in optimal conditions. But if your plant isn't blooming there are some things you can do to help it along. The most important factor is adequate light. Begonias are often thought of as shade plants, but Begonia maculata needs a good amount (at least 6 hours) of indirect sunlight to bloom. If your window doesn't provide adequate light you can try augmenting this with a grow light, arranged to provide indirect light. It is also possible to over-fertilize your plant, which can prevent flower formation. One sign of over-fertilizing, particularly with nitrogen fertilizers, is vigorous growth of leaves and stems with no flower formation. Try cutting back on fertilizing and see if this helps. Overwatering can affect blooming also, and ultimately lead to root rot.
Pruning Begonia Maculata
Your polka dot begonia also needs regular pruning to keep it from getting too overgrown or leggy. The best time to do this is late autumn or after a period of bloom when the flowers are starting to drop off and fade. Use a sharp small pair of snips to make a clean cut.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
This plant is somewhat susceptible to red spider mites, whiteflies and mealybugs. Fungal diseases and bacterial leaf rot can be a problem if there is overwatering or too much humidity.
Is Begonia maculata toxic to pets?
This plant is known to be toxic to dogs, cats and grazing animals, and should be kept inaccessible from them at all times.
Can I grow Begonia maculata outdoors?
If you live in USDA zone 10, you might be able to grow this plant outside. Some gardeners keep it outside during the warmer months and then move it indoors when nightly temperatures fall below 60F.
When does the Begonia maculata bloom?
It has a fairly long blooming season from mid-spring (April) through midsummer (July). But it can have up to three blooming seasons per year. Kept in the right conditions indoors, it will usually also bloom in late winter (January-February) and possibly in late fall (November).