Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Plants I Know and Love No. 1: Beefsteak Begonia

Good morning. Gold Country Sis Tina here, wishing you a happy Wednesday, and ready to share some photos of some of my favorite houseplants.

These beauties are begonias, and I have always known them as Beefsteak Begonias, although I really don't know if that is the correct name for them or not. They do look a bit like a steak, the bottom side even has that "raw beef" color of red, like they are ready to plop onto your black eye that you got from running into that door last night. My oldest begonia (also shown above) is on the right in the picture below. I have had this plant for so long I have forgotten when I first started it. All I am sure of is that it has to have been at least 20 years ago.

It was started from one lone leaf taken from a plant which belonged to a good friend of my Mother's. Her name was Melba. She had three of these begonias in a large South facing window, in very large clay pots. I always admired them, their shiny leaves and sturdy stems glowing like jewels in the sun. One day my mom brought me home a leaf, and so began my collection of begonias.

Melba lived on a beautiful farm which included a meadow where Native Americans made their camp for hundreds of years. There is a large rock with grinding holes near a lovely creek, a small deep pond encircled with blackberries, an orchard with wonderful pear and apple trees, a big old barn complete with child-pleasing hayloft, and of course the old farm house with those nice big Southern windows in which the begonias resided so happily. Melba passed away, her husband followed several years later, and the house was sold. I don't know what happened to her plants. I hope they are still living on somewhere else and getting good southern exposure.
I won't mislead you by saying they are a cinch to start from a pinching. I have had a lot of failures over the years attempting to get these little leaves to root. But if you stick to it, you can get a nice plant from one leaf. The best method is taking a good quality potting soil, and tucking the edge of the leaf closest to where the stem attaches into the soil. Keep slightly moist. If you are patient and the leaf feels like it, a little teeny tiny begonia plant will come up.
My photo of my first start from my plant didn't turn out, but above is my second plant I started. It is still rather small, but it is only about a year old. I will need to put it into a larger pot by next spring, and then it can stay in the same pot for the rest of its little houseplant life. I have three nice sized plants now, the same as Melba. I think of her every time I look at them. Thank you Melba!
In my kitchen, on top of my spice cabinet, I am attempting to start a new begonia by keeping a few leaves with their stems in a little glass of water. This method works about half the time. If you are lucky, little roots will start on the stem and when they get about 1/2 to an inch long you can pot them up in good soil and you are on your way. But if you aren't lucky, they just rot and you have a leaf and no roots. Then I just try again. There are always plenty of leaves to experiment with. In my garden window I have a couple of starts I am feeling lucky about. I don't have any idea where I will fit these plants in if they do get going. There is only so much southern exposure in my house, and other plants want to share the light. Fortunately, they also do well in a nice bright west facing window. I have lots of those.
Someday I hope to be the "Melba" to someone else, who will take a leaf or two from one of my begonias and get a new plant started, pot it up and place it in her Southern window, and think of me whenever she looks at it.


Heidi Ann said...

Tina, you are so definitively the Green Thumb Gold Country Girl - I have always enjoyed seeing your plants and plantings indoors and out. Your knowledge of plants astounds me. This post was especially poignant with your memories of Melba. Very nice, indeed.

Jennifer D said...

I just loved your story, may we all have a Melba in our life.

yosemite faith said...

i too loved your story. i have killed so many plants i used to have a 'death row' outside my door in california (because i felt so bad throwing them away). i love to see people like you that have a 'way' with living things!!! john plants our garden so i get my gratification second hand - enjoying it after its plantedd!

Tina Dawn said...

Hi all, thank you for your nice comments. I am not really particularly knowledgable about plants, I just wade right in and grow them, and usually they do okay. My knowlege just comes from years of growing things. Our Daddy had a few houseplants that I envied and I think that got me started on them. Faith, I too have had a 'death row' of houseplants. I have said many times that if a plant wants to die it can just go ahead and die, there are always more to take its place! I have had some that I try for years to get going and they just limp along and I wish they WOULD die. Heartless, I know.

Debra said...

What a nice post, Tina! I loved your story about Melba, and someone would be very lucky to start a plant from one of yours and carry on the tradition.