Begonia dregei is a spectacular summer-flowering, herbaceous, shade-loving perennial that makes an excellent indoor display pot plant. It is an evergreen that grows easily from either seed or cuttings. In cultivation it flowers for an extended period from midsummer to winter.
Begonia dregei is a tuberous, fleshy perennial that grows to about 300 mm tall, with a swollen stem base (caudex). The leaves are small (50–80 x 20–35 mm), asymmetrical, lobed with white spots when young and widely toothed. The 40–90 mm long leaf stalks are green or reddish. The male and female flowers occur separately but on the same plant and are interfertile. The white to pink blooms have a yellowish centre and are pendulous (nodding). They appear from December to June. The male flowers have two petals and the female flowers five. The fruit is about 10–20 mm across the wings.
According to the IUCN listing Begonia dregei is Endangered.
Distribution and habitat
Begonias occur in tropical and subtropical areas, with most species in America (2 genera and over 900 species). In southern Africa there is one genus (Begonia) with five species: Begonia dregei, B. homonyma, B. geranioides, B. sonderiana and B. sutherlandii subsp. sutherlandii.
Begonia dregei is rare; it occurs in forests, on rocky, mossy cliffs and steep banks, from the coast to 1 219 m altitude inland, from East London to KwaZulu-Natal.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Begonia is named after Michael Begon, 1638–1710, a French governor of San Domingo and a patron of botany. The specific name commemorates J.F. Drège (1794–1881), a German horticulturist and plant collector in southern Africa.
Begonia dregei is quick-growing and does not like much water in winter as it occurs in a summer rainfall area.
Uses and cultural aspects
There are no recorded traditional or cultural uses for Begonia dregei. B. homonyma is used to counteract isiDliso (poison administered in food) and B. sutherlandii is used for heartburn. Both plants are also used as a protective charm.
Growing Begonia dregei
At Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden we have had great success in propagating Begonia dregei from both seed and tip cuttings. Although it can be propagated from leaf cuttings, they tend to take a longer time to establish compared with stem cuttings. Cuttings are best taken in spring or early summer and treated with a rooting hormone. They root easily in river sand or silica sand in an intermittent mist-spray area or in a warm, moist, shaded area.
Hand pollination is necessary for a successful seed harvest in cultivation. Generally begonias hybridise easily, so care should be taken where a number of species are growing in the same area.
Seed is best sown in early spring or summer in a moist but well-drained medium. Once seedlings reach a height of 30 mm they can be pricked out and potted into 120–150 mm pots. We have found success with a well-mixed combination of 40% compost and 60 % pine bark medium with a handful of organic fertilizer (Bounceback ®).
References and further reading
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds). 2003. Plants of southern Africa : an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Hutchings, A, Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A.B. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: An inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Manning, J., Batten, A. & Bokelmann, H. 2001. Eastern Cape South African Flower Guide 11. Botanical Society of South Africa & National Botanical Institute. Cape Town.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden