Described for the first time in 1690 by a French botanist, Charles Plumier who named this Family of over 1700 species after Michel BÉGON, fellow French botanist and governor of what is today Haiti. The first begonia reached Europe in 1777 and some cultivars date back to 14th c. China!
Begonias are terrestrial (sometimes epiphytic) herbs or undershrubs, thought to have their origins in Africa but occur in subtropical and tropical moist climates, in South and Central America, Africa, and southern Asia.
One of the most infamous plant hunting expeditions was led by a Scottish Botanist named William Jack in the early 19th century. Jack’s expedition was looking for begonias and other tropical on South Sumatra Island and their search led them to a mountain the locals said was haunted. Not only was the ship with their specimens destroyed by fire, but within a year all the participants of the expedition were dead.
The National Garden Bureau has named 2016 The Year of The Begonia ! Even though there are so many species, only a fraction of them are in cultivation. Although many are from tropical parts of the world, new species such as Begonia grandis are now available to grow as perennials in the shade garden. Most growers produce begonias from cuttings considering that by weight begonia seed is more expensive than gold. The seed, as fine as dust, also makes production by seed a challenge.
The American Begonia Society founded in 1932, holds the international data base of plants a virtual Green house and tons of resources for begonia lovers. The Society has local branches in 14 states attesting to the continued popularity of the begonia.