The huge, showy begonia blossoms that can be seen in our Display House during the summer and autumn at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens vary wildly in color, shape, and size. There are begonias with single and double blossoms, in addition to those that have ruffled petals or rose forms. Tuberous begonias grow from thickened, fleshy portions of underground stem (tubers).
Plants of the genus Begonia (family Begoniaceae) were discovered by Charles Plumier, a Franciscan monk and botanist, who visited the Antilles Island (Dominican Republic) in 1690 to collect rare plants. There he found six species of this plant, with flowers no bigger than the size of a golf ball and named them in honor of Michael Begon, the governor of Santo Domingo.
The first tuberous begonias to reach England were members of the species Begonia evansiana from the mountains of Java. During the 1880s, begonia species from South America began to pour into the Kew Gardens. Hybridizers in England and all across Europe began crossing these different species, attempting to improve flower size and form, stem vigor, and disease resistance. By the 1890s, giant, single- and double-flowered cultivars and hybrids that hardly resembled the original begonia species were available. A wonderful article on tuberous begonia hybrids can be found here.
In the early 1900s, tuberous begonias were introduced to the United States, where they flourished in the mild coastal climate of central California. This climate is very similar to that of the native habitat of the first begonias, which grow in highland valleys on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains. While equatorial, these high altitude regions have a very mild climate. The summers, from November to March, have high temperatures in the 60s and 70s and lows in the 50s and 60s. This is also the rainy season. The winter season in the Andes (June, July, and August) is very dry with high temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Freezing temperatures are very rare. Thus, with an almost identical climate, coastal California, and our garden, make an ideal home for these offshoots of the first begonias.
Our begonias range in color from solid creamy white flowers to some with pink or red edging (known as picotee types), to yellows, salmon and peachy pinks, and to red varieties. This really is a floral show that begs close examination to take in all the forms on display.
To see more photos of our beautiful Begonias, visit the Photo Gallery.