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Into the Garden: It's a begonia -- but what kind?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You can stop calling now. Not that I don't love to hear from my readers -- truly, it's been a great response. But I felt like answering my phone with, "It's a begonia. Thanks for calling!":

Last week's mystery plant, found in the yard of Richard and Judy Dunlap, is a begonia. From the more than 80 emails and phone calls, I'm pretty sure that's what it is. I knew it must be some sort of a begonia, but I was hoping for a more exact name. Many schools of thought were expressed.

I apologize if I've spelled your name wrong; I didn't have a chance to call everyone back who left me all of these marvelous messages. Also, my husband isn't much of a secretary, so he didn't take down the names of those who called me at home. And then there are those of you who called or emailed after my deadline.

Begonia grandis: Carter Giltinan, who has forgotten more about plants than I will ever know, said this is a Begonia grandis. "It's a perennial, it seeds profusely and loves shade. It's easy to weed out if you tire of it!"

Agreeing with Carter are Kay Legg (who went a step further with Begonia grandis ssp. Evansiana), Linda Cordial ("It is a perennial that appreciates shade; appears late in spring"), and Anne Repaire ("I don't see it much in nurseries these days, but I bought mine from TerraSalis many years ago").

Kay Workman, of Red House, said, "Please tell your readers Richard and Judy Dunlap how lucky they are to have the mystery plant appear in their garden. They love the shade and will return year after year if left in the garden to reseed. I have had them for years in a large bed under a tree. They are not available locally at garden centers and are expensive online. My friends and I refer to them as 'pass-along plants.' The wonderful thing about them is the beautiful foliage all summer and then the bloom in August when everything else is beginning to look tired and worn."

Frani Fesenmaier, a member of Forest Ridge Garden Club, said they grow in shade and look very pretty when massed.

Angel wing begonia: Dortha Fleur, of Apple Grove; Joan Perrow Jacobs, of Alum Creek; Susan Williams; and Mildred Durant all vote for angel wing. Jacobs said she has plants that have been on her family farm for more than 30 years and "the deer do enjoy them." And S. Clark Haynes, retired from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, said he had an angel wing begonia a number of years ago, and while the Dunlaps' plant does not have exactly the same-shaped leaves, they are similar.

Dolores Blackwell took this plant from her mother's yard many years ago. "She called it an angel wing begonia, and it drops the seed every year and spreads and does not come back from the root. I have given starts of it to neighbors and my children. It does not bloom until about August and is very hardy."

Hardy begonia: This is a popular candidate. Janet Simpson, Iris Wilkinson, Betty McAdam ("beautiful plant") and Stella Atkinson all call it hardy begonia; Betty Hutcheson, of Malden, has had it for 25 years ("It will freeze back in winter, just cut of the top at the ground, it will come back. It blooms profusely! You can't kill it."); Lucretia Meyers, of Dunbar, said it's very hardy. Phyllis Drake, of Spencer, called it invasive but loves it in her yard; hers came from her husband's great-aunt out in the country.

Dawn Warfield has a large patch growing at the corner of her house, and they perennialize under the right circumstances.

"Mine come back year after year, with no effort on my part. They grow from small round corms that form at the intersection of their leaves with the stalks, and drop off. The Dunlaps must have had one fall into their planter."

Perennial begonia: Wanda Mines, of Dunbar, calls it a perennial begonia, as does Maryanne Sidenstricker ("It will spread all over the yard and look beautiful"). Liz Caudill, a Master Gardener, said the perennial begonia is an old pass-along plant in the South and she will have samples of it at the 20th anniversary celebration of the West Virginia Herb Association's Fall Festival, noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 28 and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 29 at Jacksons Mill, near Weston.

Mary Caldwell, of Dunbar, has plants that came from her mother's garden in Arlington, Va., and hers came from her mother's garden in Morgantown.

"If the deer don't eat mine, they bloom in late August. If the deer do eat the leaves, which they have this year, they will re-leaf out and possibly bloom later in September or late October (before frost). The foliage is hardy until a very heavy frost. You can pinch off the stems and they will root; or pull up some rootstock in the spring and share with friends and neighbors. I've given bags of it away and never lack for more in my yard.

"The perennial begonia is a plant that will spread and it makes a lovely border plant (if you can keep it in the area where you want it)."

By the way, Judy Dunlap: Mary sends her regards.

Jeannie Tyler, of Charleston, has them around her home and they thrive in full shade and spread. "They are beautiful plants!"

Wild begonia: Ruth Arthur's been calling it this for 20 years.

Dragon wing begonia: Carolyn Baxter, of Hurricane, and Margaret Wise, of Teays Valley, gave it this name.

Other names include everlasting begonia (from Joan Collins, of Hurricane), and pink blooms (from Terry Harper's grandson; Harper said the deer call it an appetizer before they eat her hostas for their main course. And Harper calls it an invasive plant that just won't die!).

Another mystery plant

I might be crazy, but here's another photo of a reader's mystery plant, from Kay Nelson-Legg, of Tornado.

"This spring, I found a small seedling growing in a viburnum I purchased at one of the local stores. I transplanted it to a rose garden I just started. I have guarded it, kept it watered during the hot summer and I'm still mystified to its identify. I keep hoping it is going to surprise me with a bloom. The foliage reminds me of the soft, airy, greenery on a carrot plant. Thank you."

Anyone know the name of this one?

Let the phone calls begin!

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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