Begonia maculata care can be somewhat tricky, but it’s worth it! I’m sharing everything you need to know to help your polka dot begonia thrive.
Begonia maculata care: All about the polka dot begonia!
If you’re looking for a gorgeous indoor plant, look no further than the begonia maculata. Also known as the “begonia maculata wightii” or “polka dot begonia,” this isn’t your ordinary house plant. As a matter of fact, it’s rumored that Christian Louboutin made the underside of his heels red to resemble the underside of the begonia maculata plant!
If you aren’t into fashion (I’m right there with you). He’s a world-renowned fashion designer, and the bottoms of his shoes are famous for being red. 🙂 And they are really, really expensive. I prefer my 3-year-old Rocket Dog sneakers, but to each their own. They are gorgeous shoes!
The begonia maculata is commonly known as the polka dot begonia because of the unique silver polka dots on its leaves. The leaves are an olive green with crimson red undersides. Once the plant reaches maturity after several years, it blooms bell-shaped white flowers (sometimes they are red). Interestingly, its stems look just like bamboo, too. They can grow up to almost 5 feet tall and 20 inches in width.
This exotic plant is sure to catch people’s attention and is a real showoff. But it takes more care than your average houseplant. Here’s what you need to help this stunner thrive.
Where did the polka dot begonia come from?
The begonia maculata was first discovered in Brazil in 1982. It is one of the newest members of the genus begonia, which has almost 2,000 different plant species. Charles Plumier, a French botanist, named them “begonia” after a beloved governor of Haiti, Michel Bégon. Begonia plants are all native to subtropical and tropical climates, and many of them, like the polka dot begonia, are now popular ornamental houseplants.
The begonia maculata is native to Asia, South Africa, Central America, and Mexico. It was first observed and described by Giuseppe Raddi, an Italian researcher. He used the word macula, Latin for speckled or spotted, to describe its unique leaves.
How much light does a polka dot begonia need?
The polka dot begonia requires bright, indirect light, similar to other plants native to the tropics. Maintaining the right balance of light will determine how vibrant its colors are. Too much sun will scorch its beautiful leaves, ruining the polka dots and stunting its growth. If it gets too little light, however, the sharp colors will fade, and it increases the chance of mould growing in the soil.
A north or south facing window that receives bright light will work well for your begonia maculata. My mom’s beautiful polka dot begonia was in her kitchen earlier this year, and then she set it out on her front porch for the summer. It absolutely exploded with growth—I wish I had a before picture! This is right at the end of the summer when she brought it inside. It got bright morning light every day on the porch.
Water and soil needs for the begonia maculata
Watering is perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll face when caring for a begonia maculata because there are a lot of signs to look out for. The soil should be damp but not soggy because, you guessed it, the roots will rot. Stay on the safe side and do not overwater your plant. Better yet, keep track of the days you do water it and monitor the soil.
Signs of overwatering include moldy soil, yellowing leaves, wilting stems, and brown blotches on the leaves. You never want to let the soil get too dry, though, because crispy brown and yellow patches will grow on the leaves and will lead to wilting. Test the top inch of soil with your finger—if it’s dry, you know to water thoroughly. When watering your polka dot begonia, make sure you don’t wet the leaves since they could develop mildew.
Since the begonia maculata is highly susceptible to root rot, you should prioritize drainage when it comes to picking a soil. It does well with a houseplant potting mix, and you can add perlite or extra peat moss in to help lighten the soil up and enhance drainage. If you want to take it a step further, a mixture of sand, clay, and loamy soil will work best because it will retain moisture while still draining properly.
Begonia maculata care: Temperature & humidity needs
Since the begonia maculata hails from the tropics, it thrives in higher temperatures and cannot survive in cold conditions. The ideal temperature range is around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which should be easy to manage indoors. At least in the spring, summer, and early fall.
The plant will go dormant indoors in the lower temps, but that’s ok. Most houseplants have a little rest during the winter and don’t grow much. It will perk back up and begin growing once the temperatures increase. The polka dot begonia does well outdoors for the summer in some shade.
As you might imagine, the this plant needs tons of humidity, which might be hard to accomplish if you’re growing it indoors. Most homes do not have enough moisture, so you’ll have to artificially create it. Consider keeping your begonia maculata in a bathroom or the kitchen for maximum indoor humidity.
Otherwise, you can place it near a pebble tray with water, near a humidifier, or near other plants to increase the humidity. I also have some of my higher humidity plants in a glass cabinet where I monitor the humidity levels, but polka dot begonias can get pretty large, so that might be an option. Keep in mind, you do not want the leaves to be constantly wet because they could develop mildew, so avoid misting it too often.
Polka dot begonia propagation
Luckily it’s relatively easy to propagate your polka dot begonia. Propagation is best done with stem cuttings (also known as rhizomes) during winter when the plant does not bloom. Using sharp scissors, cut off one of its bamboo-like stems just below the bud. Remove any leaves, and place it gently in a pot with well-draining, fresh soil.
The soil should be moist, but not overly wet. Much like mature polka dot begonias like. It should take about 5 to 7 weeks before roots start to form, and you can test them by gently tugging on the stem. If you feel resistance, then roots have taken hold and you’re on your way to a brand new begonia maculata! I am working on a propagation now and will update with details and pics when I have them (if it’s a success).