Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Rex begonias: My favorite plant...this week


 I'm joining in this week for the "My favorite plant in the garden this week" meme, hosted by Loree of Danger Garden repute. Since I've seen a couple others cheat a bit with multiple favorites, I decided to forgo the agony of choosing just one plant and go with a group of plants: rex begonias. In the past I've attempted to rescue rex begonias from the big box stores when they show up for the holidays, but the cold and wet sales area, followed by the dark house they were brought to, quickly led to mildew and a slow declining death that I hated to watch. Also I am an overattentive parent and probably overwatered the already weakened plants. If I watered them, they dropped leaves, if I didn't water them, they dropped leaves! I couldn't win!

Several years passed and I starting getting that itch for these amazing foliage plants again. I remember they started showing up in gardening magazines as great plants for putting out in the garden during the summer and potting up to bring inside for winter. I still kept away. Then I found this company in Texas called Steve's Leaves. This is one of my favorite sources for indoor foliage plants, and they let some flowers sneak in as well. Reasonable prices for very good-sized plants, custom propagation for things that aren't currently available, and fantastic shipping and customer service. No, I haven't received any compensation from them for gushing over their fine qualities. I just think they are great!

Wait, what was I supposed to be talking about?....

Oh, that's right! My favorite plants this week are rex begonias. I have two rex hybrids from the breeding program at Steve's Leaves. These are vigorous crosses made with classic rex cultivars and other rhizomatous begonias. I've been amazed at how well they have survived the dry winter in a drafty house in North Carolina. Their next challenge, after moving 3,000 miles and enjoying summer in the PNW, will be to survive the dark winters of Washington State.

My two rexes: 'Old Blue' is on the left and 'Starry Nights' is on the right. Oops, sorry for the rhyme. 
'Starry Nights' is a tightly clumping plant that holds it's charcoal and silver leaves upright. Very neat and tidy, perfect for obsessive compulsive gardeners (of which I know none). 

It did slow down a bit earlier in winter with smaller, less intensely-colored leaves, but never had the ugly, half-dead look that some get.

With days lengthening, it is responding quickly with deeper-colored, full-sized leaves 4-6 inches long



When I bought them, I thought for sure that 'Starry Nights', with it's flashy leaves and tidy growth habit, would be my favorite, but 'Old Blue' more than holds its own, sometimes pulling ahead in their competition for my affections. 'Old Blue' has a more sprawling habit, which you can see with the rhizome creeping over the edge of the pot in the center of the picture below. It also has larger leaves, at least up to 7", probably longer in summer with better humidity. The sprawling habit annoyed me a bit at first, but it has come to charm me instead, and the myriad, subtle variations in color make this a fantastic begonia. No two leaves are alike. Steve's Leaves might have named it 'Snowflake' instead.
I love this picture because it captures most of the many shades of 'Old Blue'. Depending on the light and temperature during the development of a leaf, the silver band may take up most of the leaf, be solid or more jagged, or be almost absent. Each leaf has a slightly different overlaying shimmer from emerald (bottom center) through shades of blue, to amethyst (top right)

This leaf has a purple sheen, which is stronger in real life. Even with digital cameras as good as they are now, some things just don't capture well. 

The more typical charcoal-green and silver leaves with a blue cast, but see how different the silver band is?

A very wide and solid band with the typical colors.

Some leaves barely have any silver on them, but that's ok. That big one on the right has the best blue sheen of all of them (which you can't really see because it's a bad picture and you'll just have to take my dubious word for it). 
The best part about these rexes, besides the fact that they are gorgeous, is that they are vigorous and low maintenance. Basically wait until the soil is bone dry, water them, and leave them alone until they dry out again. This happens once or twice a week for me (less often in PNW winters), but they are in a pretty bright room and are probably feeling a little cramped in their 3" pots. Another great feature, which has been a deal breaker for me with other begonias, is that their leaves don't curl under in low humidity. 'Old Blue' does a little, but not enough to make it unattractive, unlike my Begonia soli-mutata which ended up looking like a very rumpled, ugly Persian rug before I gave it away. My boss took it home. I guess he likes that kind of thing.

So there they are, ladybugs and gentlegerms. I've found at least two rex begonias that will grow for me. I've been perusing the online catalog at Steve's Leaves and noticed a few new temptations. If I can find a square inch of space, I may have to make another order.

Until next time...

4 comments:

  1. Both have beautiful leaves. I've had the problem before of not being able to photograph a plant well enough. I'll take your word for it. I have one similar Begonia that I've managed to keep alive so far.

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    1. Thanks for believing me. Sometimes I don't believe myself. I am crazy, after all. But these elusive shimmers on leaf surfaces and flowers are truly hard to capture.

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  2. So far I've not caught the begonia bug, however Terra Nova is breeding some super stars and I might, just might fall hard. We shall see...

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    1. I have a love/hate relationship with most begonias, but these two are really excellent. I don't like the ones that go semi-dormant indoors. They just look ratty and unhappy. I want to get the B. hemsleyana that Cistus has in their catalog, along with a couple other hardy ones they're offering. If they're outside I'm fine with them going dormant!

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