Indoor plants can beautify spaces just as creatively designed containers do outdoors. NASA studies report the ability of plants to improve air quality in closed circulation rooms by removing household chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene from the air. They add moisture and oxygen to a room. Carefully selected and placed houseplants can personalize a home.

In a bygone era, small pots of red begonias lined a shaded porch in summer. These days, we recognize that some begonias also grow well indoors. The Begonia genus is very large and contains a wide range of plant traits, many with unique leaf patterns and shapes.

My favorite begonia (Begonia acetosa) requires little effort once it is placed in moderate light and is watered only a bit every two weeks. A friend who values its beauty as a houseplant, shared a cutting of this species from the Brazil tropics. It’s known for its shiny deep green lily pad-shaped leaves with burgundy undersides. It’s tolerant of humidity in a terrarium but also grows well in the dry heated home in winter or in a hanging basket in summer shade.

This begonia grows by rhizome above ground to less than a foot tall, but it spreads as it matures. A piece of the rhizome with a couple of leaves planted in potting soil provides a starter plant for a friend. A leaf with petiole can also become a starter plant. Occasional trimming of the spreading foliage allows for several starter plants.

The B. acetosa flowers are few and white, unlike landscape begonias that are grown for flower color. Begonia flowers have no petals, only sepals. In late summer, begonias grown in containers or flowerbeds are often topped with papery “coin purses” instead of flowers. When mature, these purses hold seeds. Begonias re-bloom several times when the seed tops are deadheaded.

Besides their easy-to-share vegetative propagation and growth properties, begonias are monoecious. Separate male and female flowers are found on the same plant and allow the plant to set seed and reproduce alone. (The writer admits to needing a refresher on this point.) A casual examination of flower clusters on the B. acetosa show no differences to the untrained eye. Many landscape plants are monoecious. Sometimes monoecious plants have flowers with male and female parts in the same flower, such as the Easter lily.

On the other hand, dioecious plants are either male or female. This feature is handy for homeowners who choose Ginkgo biloba male trees to avoid messy blooms and may account for red twig dogwoods that never have red berries, or mulberry trees without purple stains beneath. Too bad this dioecious feature of junipers has not been utilized to curb pastures overgrown with cedar trees.

The January/February Martha Stewart Living magazine, found in the Yankton Community Library, has an article on begonias that include the B. acetosa. Perhaps you will see a begonia that grows indoors and out, that you may share with others. The following link also carries “The Beauty of Begonias” article:

If you’d rather see other tropical plants that are available as houseplants, these slides from Greeenhouse Grower may be of interest:

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