The Garden, pp. 218-219 (March 9, 1889)

PLATE 691.
THE SOCOTRAN BEGONIAS.
(WITH A COLOURED PLATE OF B. JOHN HEAL. *)

WHEN Begonia socotrana flowered for the first time in England in 1881, its probable usefulness as a garden plant was at once perceived. Botanically, this species is interesting from its occurring in such an out of-the-way place as the island of Socotra, thousands of miles removed from the haunts of any other known Begonia. It also possesses characters of an exceptional kind in the form of its tubers, of its foliage, and the persistence of its flowers.

In THE GARDEN, 1882 (VOL XXI., p. 162), a coloured plate of B. socotrana was published, and it was then stated that, from the wide difference between the characters of this and the Andean species of Begonia, a cross between the two, however desirable, seemed at least doubtful of achievement. No cross had been effected between the evergreen and tuberous kinds, nor yet between the latter and the South African tuberous species, of which B. caffra is an example. The distinct B. Martiana (gracilis) has since then been crossed with one of the Andean seedlings, notably by Mr. Cooper, gardener to the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, M.P., in whose garden some distinct and pretty hybrid Begonias have been raised. However, nothing is so likely to happen as the unexpected, and in the pretty Begonia figured in the accompanying plate we have the first undoubted hybrid raised from B. socotrana and one of the Andean seedlings.

Begonia socotrana, showing habit of plant.


Begonia John Heal

* Drawn for THE GARDEN in Messrs. Veitch's nursery by H. G. Moon, November 20, 1888.
Lithographed and printed by Guillaume Severeyns.

B. socotrana, illustrations of which we here give, was discovered by Professor Bayley Balfour in the island of Socotra in 1880, and he sent a few bulbils of it to Kew, along with other plants collected in that island and at Aden. A batch of about twenty plants of the Begonia was raised. These flowered in the winter of 1881, when a figure was prepared for the Botanical Magazine and for THE GARDEN. The plants then passed into the hands of the Messrs. Veitch, who distributed them the year following. But B. socotrana has not become popular in gardens, notwithstanding its many excellent qualities as a winter-flowering plant. At Kew it has continued to be grown in quantity, and during mid-winter its bright rosy flowers are very attractive. It is easily grown, is dwarf, the leaves are a healthy green, and it blossoms very freely, the flowers lasting several weeks. Cut and placed in water they have been known to keep fresh more than a fortnight. Unlike all other Begonias, this species retains its flowers even after they have withered, a character which cultivators of Begonias well know how to appreciate.

The success of the Messrs. Veitch in plant-breeding has been most marked, not only amongst Orchids, but in almost all horticultural departments in which hybridisation has been effected. Mr. John Heal, to whose skilful manipulation we owe many beautiful seedlings and hybrids, and to whom we are indebted for the following particulars, fertilised the flowers of B. socotrana with pollen from a tuberous variety called Viscountess Doneraile, and obtained as a result one seedling. This flowered in 1886, and was named John Heal. It was awarded a first-class certificate at South Kensington in the same year. All the plants distributed under this name have been raised from cuttings of this one plant, as, curiously enough, no female flowers have been produced by this hybrid, so that seedlings of it have been impossible. Mr. Heal suggests that no doubt the absence of female flowers accounts for the length of time the male flowers remain on the plants. He also states that after exhibiting the first plant at South Kensington he cut off all the flowers and kept them in water till the next fortnightly meeting, when they were again exhibited and were quite fresh. This suggests the usefulness of the flowers in bouquet-making and for vases, &c.

In habit B. John Heal is intermediate between its two parents, attaining a height of about 9 inches, branching naturally and freely, the leaves obliquely heart shaped (not peltate, as in B. socotrana), and bright green. The flowers are borne loosely on graceful peduncles well above the foliage, every stem developing flowers. Strong plants bear as many as twelve flowers on each peduncle; they are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, elegant in structure, their colour being bright rosy carmine. Each flower continues fresh about eighteen days and then shrivels No stakes are required for the support of the plants, which is a relief to those who know what a disfigurement stakes often are in the summer-flowering Begonias. The plants commenced to bloom in the second week of last September, and were gay with flowers till the middle of January. In gardens away from London some plants bloomed up till the middle of February.

B. ADONIS was Mr. Heal's next success. This was the result of fertilising flowers of a large-flowered Andean variety with pollen from B. John Heal. B. Adonis is more robust than B. John Heal, the foliage being larger, and the flowers, which are all male, are almost as large again, or 3 inches in diameter; they are of a pleasing soft rose colour, paler towards the centre, and arranged on graceful arching peduncles. This variety was certificated by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1887.

B. WINTER GEM is the best of the trio, and is a most beautiful flowering plant, possessing all the attractions of the best of the Andean race, with the useful habit of flowering in winter. It was obtained by hybridising the flowers of B. socotrana with pollen from a crimson-flowered Andean variety. In habit it is not unlike the first-named parent, but it is more compact; the peduncles are not so lax, and the flowers are large, of good substance, and of a deep carmine, almost crimson, colour.

Begonia socotrana, showing flowers and leaf.

No doubt these three hybrids will form the nucleus of a race of Begonias which is certain to prove of the greatest possible value. The accomplishment of this is now only a matter of time. We have already several very distinct and useful races of Begonia, viz., the Rex section, a glorious race of ornamental-leaved plants now very much neglected; the tuberous or Andean section; the semperflorens section, a group which promises to soon become valuable for the stove in winter—indeed, we have already several first-rate flowering plants in this section; the octopetala section, the first of which was lately figured in THE GARDEN (see p. 125); and the Socotran section. We are gradually finding out the immense value of many of the Begonias as garden plants.

The culture of B. John Heal and its two allies is simple enough. The plants go to rest as soon as the flowers are over, and they remain dormant till July, when growth recommences. The tubers are then shaken out of the old soil and repotted, 5-inch pots being used, and one tuber is placed in each pot. The soil should be the same as that used for ordinary Begonias. If a stock is wanted, the shoots, if removed and treated as cuttings as soon they get long enough, will soon root, and make nice flowering plants the same season. Even the smallest plants bloom when the flowering time arrives. A warm greenhouse or intermediate house suits them, and they should have all the light possible.

Begonia list