An Introduction to Begonias

Identifying the 7 types of begonias and growing tips

closeup of pink begonias

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Begonias are among the most popular of cultivated plants, indoors or outdoors. These lovely plants are grown for both their leaf forms and their blooms, depending on the type of begonia. In some areas of the world, the wax begonia is easily the most popular bedding plant, while serious plant collectors still go to great lengths to hunt down beautiful foliage begonias.

An Introduction to Begonias

According to the American Begonia Society, the Begonia genus of plants includes about 1,500 named species and several thousand hybrids. From a cultivation point of view, begonias have all the ingredients for successful hybridization—they cross readily, they have striking variability in the genus, and their ranks include everything from durable landscape plants to delicate specimens.

Botanically speaking, begonias are terrestrial understory herbs native to tropical regions around the world, including Central and South America, Asia, and Africa. Today, most begonias in cultivation are hybrids, so they cannot be grown from seeds. Fortunately, however, they readily reproduce from leaf cuttings or rhizome division, so it's easy to rapidly increase your ​begonia collection.

7 Types of Begonias

Because of the wide variety of begonia types, enthusiasts divide the genus into different types to help keep them straight. Brad Thompson, a begonia expert, offers the following divisions for begonias:

  1. Cane type. These grow from straight, sometimes brittle stems and are prized for both their blooms and their foliage. The very popular and beautiful angel wing and dragon wing begonias are cane-type begonias. These hybrids generally feature clusters of pendant flowers that appear throughout the year.
  2. Shrub type. Shrub begonias grow in mounding piles from multiple stems. They range in size from small to huge plants that would dwarf a full-grown man. These are not as common as cane-type begonias.
  3. Rhizomatous. Rhizomatous begonias grow from thick underground rhizomes. These types of begonias are popular for their beautiful leaf shapes and colors, with leaves that can attain massive size under the right conditions. These are very popular plants and include some of the most commonly cultivated indoor begonias.
  4. Semperflorens. These are the common wax begonias because of the waxy appearance of their leaves. In temperate areas, these are grown as annuals, but they are perennial shrubs in warmer areas. Wax begonias have been bred with pink, white, and red flowers, either in single or double blooms. Although they are most commonly grown outdoors, they can be grown indoors.
  5. Tuberous. Tuberous begonias are primarily grown for their flowers, which are often show-worthy. They have a short dormant period in the fall and winter. In terms of plant structure, tuberous begonias include trailing types and upright plants.
  6. Trailing. Trailing begonias are great for hanging baskets. They feature pendant growth with beautiful displays of flowers, sometimes year-round. Most pendant begonias have bright-green leaves.
  7. Rex. Rex begonias are a type of rhizomatous begonias, but they deserve special mention for their showy and beautiful leaves. Rex begonias offer a truly bewildering array of leaf shapes and colors, including greens, red, purple, silver, white, and many others. These types of begonias have insignificant flowers, but the leaves make up for their lack of interesting blooms.

Broad Rules for Growing

Knowing the type of begonia growing is essential for success. In general, however, three broad rules can be drawn about begonias:

  1. They cannot tolerate freezing temperatures.
  2. They prefer regular and even moisture but dislike being wet.
  3. Many of them do not thrive in strong sunlight.

But even these are only the broadest of rules. The rest of this series of articles will delve more deeply into the world of begonias and hopefully offer some tips and hints on how to identify and keep your begonias thriving.