Scientific name: Begonia fusca
Plant type: Rhizomatous, herbaceous perennial
Environment: Dappled sun with well-drained soil
Uses: Specimen plants
Mesoamerican Cloud Forest – 24D, 26E, 26F
Begonia fusca is a large, rhizomatous Begonia native to Mexico and Central America. Not often found in cultivation, B. fusca thrives in the Garden.
Begonia fusca was first described by European botanists in 1852 by the Danish botanist Frederik Liebmann. Liebmann traveled extensively in Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century and wrote a comprehensive text on Begonias in the region. Within this text he described multiple new species, including B. fusca, which was based on material largely collected in Oaxaca, Mexico. The individuals in the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest collection were also collected in Oaxaca in the 1990s by past SFBG curator Don Mahoney and Dr. Dennis Breedlove, former curator of botany at the California Academy of Science.
While the original description is based on material found in southern Mexico, Begonia fusca is found in Guatemala and Honduras as well. In these areas it grows at elevations from 1,000 to 3,000 m in the transitional zone between dry forest and cloud forest and in cloud forests.
A study was carried out in the north of Puebla, a state in south central Mexico, focusing on edible Begonias in 2003. This study found that the long petioles (stalk that connects the leaf blade to the stem of the plant) of B. fusca were cultivated and sold as potherbs to be used in cooking. The fact that the plants are maintained for sale differentiates them from other Begonia species in the region that are collected for personal use and not sold commercially. In Puebla, B. fusca is referred to as xocoyolli cimarrón, or wild sour. Xocoyolli is derived from the Nahuatl language, that of the native peoples of the region, and means “sour heart,” referring to the bitter flavor of the petioles.
Begonia fusca is noted for having the largest leaves of any Begonia in Mexico. It also has bright pink flowers that emerge on stalks that can grow up to 3 ft. B. fusca requires well drained soils in areas with dappled sunlight.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and photos by Victoria Stewart.