upleafting plants

The curious life of my favorite Begonia

Among all of the 1400+ varieties of begonias, one always stood out to me. It’s commonly known as Angel Wing Begonia, or sometimes as Begonia lucerna, but it’s actually a hybrid whose full name is Begonia ‘Corallina de Lucerna’. And according to my readings, this hybrid came to life when the mysterious Eva Kenworthy Gray (I like to think she looked like Eva Green in Penny Dreadful) successfully crossed two varieties in 1926. A tiny parentheses: Eva loved begonias so much she wrote a book about them, and obviously she decided to call the book “Begonias”!

The two types she crossed were Begonia coccinea ‘lucerna’, a sturdier, simpler and clear green plant and Begonia aconitifolia, a more fragile and thin maple-like begonia with a silvery metallic pattern. The hybrid she created didn’t look exactly like the popular Angel Wing Begonia of today, but her creation seems to have been the start of this particular genre of Begonias – silvery dotted leaves that when paired next to each other look like the back of an angel.

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My first encounter with Begonia ‘Corallina de Lucerna’ (which I shall call Corallina from here on) was in November of 2016. I was living in Stockholm at the time. I was just casually checking Facebook, and I stumbled upon a new post in a plant group I was a part of. An older lady in another city wanted to sell a couple of tiny cuttings from her begonia. There was a picture of two bare stem cuttings, and she just called the plant “Angel Wing Begonia”. Without knowing what the plant actually would look like, I asked her if I could buy them. She really didn’t want any money for them, just for me to pay the shipping (about one dollar). It was a done deal!

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One of the two cuttings didn’t survive, the roots were too weak. But the other one grew up so fast, that within a couple of months I had a long stem with several leaves. And six months later, there was a new stem coming up from the soil next to the first one. As soon as it had grown a bit, I decided to cut off the first stem to propagate the plant and get even more begonia magic in my home. I repeated this a couple of times and soon I had two pretty big plants. A few months later, I brought them to a new apartment and a new city (Malmö). Then I decided to combine the two into one large pot, and voila, I had a big begonia bush in my living room!

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The Corallina bush grew bigger and bigger, growing more branches and new stems than I could count. In one year it had gotten so big that I felt I had to cut it down at some point. But before I did so, we got the news that Vini had gotten a new job in Panama City, and so I had to sell all my plants and move on. But I couldn’t let go of my precious Corallina, could I? So before selling it, I took a couple of cuttings and gave them to friends and family. The plant had to live on! I also saved one long stem for myself. I divided the stem in four parts, cut off all the leaves, and brought the stem cuttings with me. They were without water, without roots and without soil. Just four tiny pieces of stem, all with one node each.

It took longer than I thought it would, but after about 5 weeks, roots sprouted and I recently planted my tiny cuttings. Each of them have a couple of leaves now, and pretty soon they’ll have more. The Corallina can be a slow starter, but when it’s fully charged, it doesn’t stop, ever. It grows and grows and grows. And that’s it folks, that’s the curious life of my Corallina. Hopefully it’ll get big and beautiful here in Panama soon. I’d like to think that Eva Kenworthy Gray would have been proud of how far my begonia has travelled.

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So how do you take care of Corallina?
Well, it’s really one of the easiest plants you’ll ever meet. Most cane begonias are the same, so just follow my advice below and you’ll be fine.

CARE TIPS

Light: Lots of bright light, even direct sun unless it’s very strong. This plant doesn’t do well in darker spots of the room. My plant even thrived in direct sunlight all year around, but I’ve heard from others that their plants couldn’t handle direct sun all day in the summer.

Potting material: I usually use a mix of normal potting soil and perlite. You could throw a couple pieces of bark in there too if you like, but it’s really not necessary for the plant to thrive. Just see to it that it’s somewhat easy draining, because otherwise the roots may rot. I like to use terracotta pots for this begonia, since it helps the plant breathe if you accidentally give it too much water.

Water: Corallina drinks lots, especially in the summer. But if overwatering occurs, new leaves usually grow deformed and ugly, so try to let the top 2-3 centimeters of the soil dry out before watering. If you’re unsure if your plant is in need of water, check the leaves. Are the droopy and hanging, or are they bouncy and sturdy? If they’re droopy and sloppy, they are in desperate need of water!

Fertilizer: You can easily feed the Corallina once every other week. Most places say every week, but I always feed my plants a little bit less than what other people recommend, because then you know you won’t ever give them too much nutrition.

Propagation: You’ll want to cut off the top piece of the stem, with 2-3 leaves on it. Remove the bottom 1-2 leaves (or all of them if you like). Just make sure that there is 1 or 2 nodes on the piece of stem, where the new stem will start growing from. Either put it directly in soil (risk of rot, in my opinion) or put it in water and wait for roots to form. It will take around a month or a bit longer, and then you can plant it. Wait for the cutting to have more than just one tiny root before you plant it.

Brown/dry leaves: The environment could be too dry. Are you keeping the plant close to a heater? Try moving it to another spot. Are you overwatering? Try letting the soil dry up for longer between waterings.

Unnatural silvery/see-through spots: Could be bugs, like thrips. Check the back of the leaf thoroughly to see if there are any crawlies creeping around. See-through spots could also be lack of nutrition, or simply a sunburn.

Good luck! And if you have any questions, you can always comment below. Don’t forget to follow me on instagram for more plant care tips and pics!

Last but not least, here are some pictures in a chronological order, with time stamp and brief explanations (best viewed on a computer), from the life and times of my Corallina!

How to grow an Alocasia from a bulb

Alocasia zebrina

A while back I wrote about how to make your Alocasia happy in water. Now it’s time to talk about the bulbs! When you’re repotting or transferring your Alocasia to water, you might find these round-shaped bulbs in the soil. Sometimes they’re attached to the roots of the plant, sometimes they’re just rolling around in the soil doing their thing (which is sleeping or being dead, basically). If they’re not attached to anything, they might not give you any new sprouts, but it’s worth a try. Don’t worry about removing the attached ones from the roots though, that won’t hurt them nor the plant. Just do it carefully and try to remove the bulb from the roots, rather than the bulb with roots from the plant. If the bulb has one or two roots of its own, that’s great too!

When you’ve got them in your hand, squeeze them gently and check so that they’re still quite hard. If they’re moist/soft, they’re probably too far gone and you should just throw them away. This happens when there’s been too much water in the soil for a long time and root/bulb rot is bound to happen.

Alocasia bulb size

Having removed the bulb(s), you can plant them directly into some well draining soil (preferably a little soil mixed with perlite and sand, or other loose and dry material). This is for the bulb not to rot when you water it, you’ll just have to remember to water it quite frequently. I put a glass cover over them, so that it created a kind of tiny greenhouse. This way I didn’t have to water them that often, and when I did, I just sprayed the soil and the bulbs with water until I saw the water going down below the surface. Maybe once a week or so, I removed the glass roof for an hour, to let the bulbs breath a little.

Just an inch below the soil mixture, I put tiny rocks (you may also use soil with little to no nutrition, like cactus mix). The bulbs won’t need that much soil in the beginning, the point is just for them to create roots, and then later on to start growing their first stem/leaf. It’ll take a while, so be patient. I’d say give it a month, and if it doesn’t start growing in that time, it might not happen at all. Mine took about 2-3 weeks to start growing, and I planted them in April/May. Less than one year later and some of my Alocasia babies have created new bulbs of their own. Amazing how nature works isn’t it!

Planted growing bulbs

I got some questions on Instagram about this subject: 

Where do I find/buy Alocasia bulbs?
I’ve never seen them for sale. Might be that in some countries you can buy them (maybe online?). But I haven’t seen them and I’m not sure I’d recommend buying them either, because you never know the quality of them and if you pay a lot, it’s just wasted money. Just get them from another Alocasia, like I’ve explained above. If you don’t have one, maybe a friend has one and is repotting it soon? Be sure to hang around and grab a bulb or two! 

What is the best humidity for the bulb? 
Speaking from experience, I’ve noticed they rot easily (same goes for the roots/bases of the actual grown plants). Therefore they do need quick and easy draining soil (or, if it’s a full plant already, just stick it in water!). When it comes to humidity in the air, you may spray the leaves now and then. I don’t do that anymore, as I never noticed a difference in plant health when doing it. But it might help keeping spider mites away. For the bulbs to not dry out, keep them in a tiny greenhouse, a pot covered with a drinking glass or something else that you can easily pull off at home. 

Are there any other ways of creating new Alocasias? 
Except for getting bulbs from the soil of other Alocasias, you can also pollinate the plants when they have flowers and hope for the best. But I’ve never tried this method myself, so I can’t say much about it. Bulbs are definitely easier, faster and usually more frequent than flowers. Do NOT under ANY circumstances try to take cuttings from Alocasias, because it will never ever work. They will only die.

CHECKLIST

  • Make sure the bulb is still hard

  • Place the bulb with the root-part downwards

  • Use quick draining soil

  • Use a plastic or glass cover

  • Never let it dry out 100%

  • Plenty of light

PS. Remember to have a look at my story highlight on my Instagram. There you can see the evolution and growth of these bulbs over time! 

If you have any further questions, let me know in the comments below or in a direct message on Instagram!

Alocasia on the table

How to grow an Alocasia in water

A lot of people have asked about my Alocasia zebrina plants and how I’ve made them thrive in my home. First of all, let’s go through the zebrinas I have. There's a bigger one in water, that I rescued from very certain rotting death. It was gifted to me this spring. I also have several tiny babies, that I grew from the bulbs that I took from the big one. 

Let’s start with the big one (the bulbs will get their own blog post in a few days!). When I got it, the plant had two large beautiful but slightly sad leaves and the soil was super wet. No matter how long I waited, or how much wet soil I removed, it just wouldn’t dry. I figured that the type of soil must be wrong for the plant, and removed as much as I could, and repotted it. 

A big parenthesis: you might like to know that the soil that was in the pot was what came with the plant from the grower. I think it was some kind of coconut coir (or a similar medium). This is what most Alocasias are potted in, at least if they come from The Netherlands. I tend not to use coconut coir, as I think it keeps the water for too long. And once it’s gotten too wet, it’s quite difficult to get it back on a good level again. It does work wonders for some plants though. Actually my biggest Alocasia amazonica thrives in it. But i'ts potted with coconut coir that I’ve put there myself, and if I remember correctly I mixed it with something else (and I water it quite sparsely whenever it gets water). 

Back to the repotting of mama Alocasia: Getting new soil wasn’t really helping it either. I waited a month or so, but the leaves were looking more and more yellow each day. My last option was to remove all the soil and stick the plant in water. I also took the opportunity to remove all rotten and damaged roots, and take out the bulbs that were still intact. Several bulbs were soft and rotten already.

It only took about a week in water for the plant to regain some of it’s strength. It quickly started to sprout a new leaf. As soon as it did, I cut off the remaining yellowed leaves and I decided to move the plant into a new glass jar. It looked like a beautiful alien octopus...

Since that first leaf grew to its full stage, the plant has been spitting out a new leaf every 3 weeks, each one bigger than the last. The plant now has so many roots in that glass jar (see the picture at the end of this post), and it’s getting increasingly difficult to photograph the whole plant in one photo! I’m happy this method worked so well. For all of you Alocasia haters out there, this is what you need to do for your plant to be happy. I promise it will work wonders! 

I also received questions on Instagram about this plant and method, here are some answers: 

Where on the stem do I cut it off, and can I take cuttings? 
Do NOT cut off the stem of your Alocasia. If you want to save the plant and put it in water, you need to remove all the soil and put the whole root system in water. Do NOT try to take cuttings from an Alocasia, it will never work. The only way to produce new plants is to get bulbs from the soil, or if a bulb starts growing on its own and a new plant pops up from the soil. You might also 

Do you fertilize the water? 
No. I’ve never tried adding anything, but I guess you could leave it in minimally fertilized water for a couple of hours or a day, and then change the water? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t leave it in fertilized water for a long time, it might be too much of a shock for the plant and the water roots. 

What about the size of the container?
Don’t worry too much about this if your plant is in water. I would just find a fitting vase/jar that gives the plant enough support around the sides. It needs to be quite tall (I might try to find a new one for mine soon) and not too wide. 

How do you keep the corm and the roots from rotting in water?
It simply does not rot in water! Alocasias tend to grow in moist and wet places, for example in the rainforest climate of Brazil. So if you have a true Alocasia, it should be able to handle the wet conditions. However, as I’ve mentioned above, they tend to rot fast and easy in certain mediums, such as coconut coir or very dense potting soil. These roots need oxygen, which they do get even when they’re in water. They don’t get enough of it in dense or very wet soil though. That’s why I recommend putting it in water if you’re having trouble keeping it alive in any other medium. 

Am I eventually going to put this plant back in soil? 
I don’t know. My Alocasia zebrina seems to thrive and be really happy as it is right now. I might change my mind about it in spring. But for now, and during winter, I’m definitely keeping it in water. And you decide for yourself what you’d like to do with yours. You might just want to use this method to save it from certain death and then when it’s recuperated put it back in soil. That’s fine!   

Is Alocasia zebrina toxic to pets? 
Just like a lot of other tropical plants, Alocasias are considered toxic to cats and dogs. If you have a pet, you might consider putting your Alocasia in a place where your pet can’t reach it. Or just don’t get an Alocasia. 

Checklist

  • Make sure your plant is actually an Alocasia of some sort
  • Remove as much soil as possible, and all rotten roots too
  • No direct sunlight, but give it plenty of indirect light
  • Change the water every 7-10 days
  • Sing Drake to get it to fall asleep every night (kidding) 
  • You’ll have a happy Alocasia in no time!

If you have any further questions, let me know in the comments below or in a direct message on Instagram!

Look at those roots! Insane huh?! 

Look at those roots! Insane huh?!