Elephant’s Ear Begonia – Begonia haageana

One of the finest house plants of all, an Elephant’s Ear Begonia not only has large, well-formed leaves but also produces pretty flowers for a large part of the summer.

The plant comes from Brazil so it is used to warm, humid conditions. It needs to be kept at above 16°C (60°F) at all times and will soon suffer if the temperature goes below 13°C (55°F).

Elephant’s Ear Begonia does well in a peat-based compost but will also thrive in a potting compost made up of an equal-parts mix of leaf mould and soil-based compost. To ensure that the compost is well-drained, put a 3cm (1in) layer of flower pot shards in the bottom of the pot.

A mature specimen grows up to 1.2m (4ft) tall and can be nearly as wide. The stems are thick, and up to 90cm (3ft) long. On them grow the leaves, which are shaped — as the plant’s name suggests — like elephants’ ears. The tops of the leaves are a rich, glossy green with red veins and the undersides are reddish. They are thickly covered with short white hairs. Leaves grow from 15-25cm (6-10in) long and can be up to 15cm (6in) across.Elephant's Ear Begonia - Begonia haageana

The plant produces clusters of pretty, pinky-white flowers from June to September. Each flower is about 4cm (1½in) across.

Propagation

The best way to increase Elephant’s Ear Begonia is to take cuttings in late spring.

The cutting should be of a non-flower bearing shoot and should be 7.5-10cm (3-4in) long. Dip the cut end into hormone rooting powder after removing the lowest leaf. Put the cutting in a 7.5cm (3in) pot Tilled with a just moist rooting compost of equal parts sharp sand or perlite and peat moss. Cover the pot and cutting with a polythene bag and place in good, but filtered, light for 3-6 weeks.

After this time, take off the bag and water the cutting sparingly. Apply liquid fertilizer every 14 days. This plant is prone to rot, so do not overwater. After about 6 months, treat as an adult plant.

Plant Problems

Small, powder-coated spots on the stems indicates mildew, a disease which can attack all types of Begonia.

Treatment: The first thing to do is to cut away any affected parts as soon as you see them. Then spray the plant with a fungicide, following the instructions on the pack, to kill oft the mildew.

Wilting of the top growth or chewed leaf edges is an attack of vine weevils. You may see the large, grey-black beetles themselves. The larvae attack the roots, and can quickly kill the plant. Treatment: Remove the adult beetles by hand and drench the compost with an insecticide containing gamma dust. This is the only effective insecticide.

PLANT CARE

Given the right temperature, an Elephant’s Ear Begonia is not very demanding. It needs occasional mist spraying.

  • Potting: Use a peat-based potting compost in a well-drained pot. Repot plants in spring when they get too big for their pots, until in a pot about 20cm (8in) across. Thereafter top-dress each spring.
  • Water moderately during the active growing period and sparingly in the winter. Stand the pot on a tray of moist pebbles to increase humidity levels.
  • Feeding: Apply a half-strength dose of dilute liquid fertilizer every 14 days during the active growing period.

GROWING CONDITIONS

  • Light: An Elephant’s Ear Begonia does best in partial shade with perhaps an hour or so of direct sunshine every day.
  • Temperature: Normal room temperatures are fine during the summer, and the temperature should be kept up in the winter to above 16°C (60°F). Mist spray to maintain high humidity.

The Elephant’s Ear Begonia is perhaps the favourite of the hairy leaved Begonias. It has large leaves and bears flowers for a long time. It is propagated by cuttings.

When to buy

  • Elephant’s Ear Begonia can be bought from garden centres and nurseries at most times of the year. It may be found under the alternative botanical name of Begonia scharffii.
  • Buy a plant that is sturdy and without any signs of mildew or insect infestation.
  • Can live for quite a while in good conditions.

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