With its silvery-white dotted leaves, red leaf underside and beautiful flowers, Begonia maculata is a one-of-a-kind addition to your indoor jungle.
You will need to give the beautiful polka dot begonia (Begonia maculata) some tender loving care if you want to enjoy it in all its glory. Read on to find out how to care for the spotted begonia, including tips on watering, pruning and even how to propagate them.
- Begonia maculata: origin, flowers and characteristics
- Begonia maculata varieties
- Where and how to grow Begonia maculata
- Begonia maculata care
- Propagating begonia maculata
- Is the polka dot begonia poisonous?
Begonia maculata: origin, flowers and characteristics
The polka dot begonia is a unique, bushy-growing member of the begonia family (Begoniaceae). It is a tropical and subtropical flowering plant native to the rainforests of Brazil. This species of begonia has dark green, asymmetrical, lanceolate leaves with silvery-white dots and a distinct contrasting red underside. Its leaves grow from a sturdy stem and have a thick waxy layer to prevent excessive water loss through evaporation. In certain light, they also have a metallic shimmer. Due to its characteristic dots, this houseplant is known as the polka dot begonia or spotted begonia.
Polka dot begonias are monoecious, meaning they have both male and female flowers. Begonia maculata flowers are white to light pink and grow in hanging clusters. The male flowers are slightly smaller and have yellow stamens, whereas the female flowers have carpels. The main flowering period is from spring to summer. When grown indoors, polka dot begonias grow upright and sometimes overhang slightly, reaching between 20 and 40 cm wide and 30 to 80 cm high.
Begonia maculata varieties
There are only a couple of types of polka dot begonias:
- Begonia maculata ˈWightiiˈ: This variety has dark green leaves with contrasting silvery-white dots and characteristic intensely red leaf undersides. It grows about 40 to 50 cm tall and overhangs slightly.
- Begonia x albopicta: This white-spotted begonia is actually a cross between Begonia maculata and Begonia olbia.
Note: There are other species in the Begonia genus that look very similar to the spotted begonia. These include the pink-red flowering angelwing begonia (Begonia coccinea) and the red flowering begonia ‘Lucerna’ (Begonia corallina ‘Lucerna’). Begonia ‘Lucerna’ is most likely a subspecies of Begonia maculata, but taxonomists still disagree on this matter. You might also come across a so-called dwarf Begonia maculata, which is sometimes sold under the cultivar name ‘Dotty’. However, this is not a true cultivar, but rather an artificial, usually chemically stunted plant that would develop just like the normal species under normal conditions.
Where and how to grow Begonia maculata
The polka dot begonia prefers a bright place without direct sunlight, as well as a warm climate with temperatures ranging from 20 to 22°C. During the winter months, it can also withstand slightly lower temperatures of around 15 to 18°C. It does not tolerate cold draughts. Not surprisingly, given its origin, this plant also likes high humidity. As a result, it is best to keep it in a naturally more humid room, such as a bathroom, rather than a room with dry air.
Spotted begonias like loose, well-draining and humus-rich soil. To plant your begonias, we recommend using a high-quality potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. This peat-free soil is an excellent choice as it provides begonias with all of the necessary nutrients in the first year after planting. To ensure good drainage and to avoid waterlogging, mix in about a third of expanded clay.
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Can you keep polka dot begonias outdoors? Yes. There is no reason not to put your begonia outside as long as it is in a wind-protected spot without direct sunlight and the temperature does not drop below 15 °C at night. In fact, because of the conditions outdoors, it is likely to grow better between May and October. Plus, these plants will add a lovely tropical touch to your garden!
Begonia maculata care
Aside from having specific watering requirements, polka dot begonias are relatively undemanding and easy to care for.
Pruning, fertilising and watering begonia maculata
Polka dot begonias tolerate neither extreme drought nor waterlogging. While the root ball can be left to dry out a fair bit between watering, it must never dry out completely. To check if your begonia needs watering, simply stick your finger a few centimetres deep into the soil – if it feels very dry, it is time to water your begonia! As noted above, polka dot begonias love humidity, so you can mist it with water occasionally to help mimic the conditions of a tropical rainforest. As these plants are susceptible to powdery mildew, it is best to mist around the base of the plant, avoiding the leaves.
During the growing season, apply liquid fertiliser once every two to four weeks to provide your spotted begonia with extra nutrients. Our organic Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food is ideal for begonias as it is high in potassium, ensuring strong leaves and compact growth.
Pruning your polka dot begonia regularly is a simple care measure and will encourage the plant to grow bushier. You can also easily propagate the begonia using the cuttings. To do this, simply cut your begonia below the nodes on the stem. Here there are dormant growth points from which the plant will sprout new growth.
Note: Begonia maculata are fast-growing plants. They will therefore need repotting about once a year, ideally in the spring, into fresh soil with a drainage layer.
Common begonia maculata problems
It is not always easy to determine why your polka dot begonia is not doing well. Here are some common problems and how to remedy them.
Leaf drop: An unfavourable location, draughts, temperatures below 15 °C or above 22 °C can cause Begonia maculata to lose its leaves. Here we recommend moving your plant elsewhere or adjusting its current conditions. Waterlogging, dryness and low humidity can also lead to leaf drop. In the case of waterlogging, reduce watering and allow the soil to dry out almost completely in the meantime. Misting with water or using a humidifier can help against dryness and low humidity. If the plant is near a radiator, move it elsewhere.
Not flowering: In ideal conditions, polka dot begonias can flower for several months even as a houseplant. They usually flower quite reliably too, so as long as you meet its requirements, you should not have any problems with getting them to bloom. Radical pruning may lead to a lack of flowering.
Dry leaf tips: Possible causes for dry leaf tips include low humidity, lack or excess of nutrients and damage caused by pesticides. As already mentioned, you can ensure appropriate humidity by misting or using a humidifier. In the case of overfertilisation, repot the plant into new soil. To reduce the risk of overfertilisation, it is best to regularly apply an organic fertiliser. To avoid nutrient deficiencies, fertilise every two to four weeks.
Overwintering the polka dot begonia
In winter, keep your spotted begonia in a bright place at a temperature between 15 and 18 °C, preferably not in the immediate vicinity of a radiator. It is also a good idea to reduce watering slightly and continue misting the plant occasionally during this time.
Propagating begonia maculata
Begonia maculata can be propagated very easily through cuttings. Theoretically, you can propagate this plant all year round, but it is best to do so in spring. To propagate your begonia, cut off about 10 cm long shoots without flowers below a leaf node. Put the polka dot begonia cuttings in a glass of water and place in a warm, light spot at a temperature of about 20 °C. Once the cuttings have grown plenty of strong roots, plant them into a pot with high-quality potting soil.
It is also possible to propagate Begonia maculata using basal cuttings. For this, you will need to get a cutting of a basal shoot as close to the stem as possible. Basal cuttings usually have several dormant growth points from which new roots can grow. Simply remove the basal shoot from the main shoot and proceed in the same way you would any other cutting.
Is the polka dot begonia poisonous?
Yes, polka dot begonias are poisonous as the sap found in all parts of the plant contains oxalic acid and calcium oxalate. Contact with this sap can cause reddening of the skin, irritation of the mucous membranes, diarrhoea, vomiting and shortness of breath. For this reason, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly after contact with the sap to avoid getting it into your eyes or mouth. Ideally, wear gloves. The polka dot begonia is also toxic to pets such as dogs, cats, small mammals and birds.
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