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The versatile begonia puts its best leaf forward

Grown for their colorful, shapely foliage, these houseplants are a dream to grow and share with friends.

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• Cracklin' Rosie: Amazing plant with deep-green tops of angel-wing leaves, covered with dainty pale pink dots; undersides are rich maroon. Infrequent rosy-red blossoms. Height: 36 to 42 inches. Canelike.

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• Dragon Wing Pink: Spectacular in hanging baskets. Deep-green "angel wings" with nonstop panicles of pink blooms. Height: 2 to 18 inches. (Note: It is unlawful to propagate this trademarked variety.) Canelike.

Joe Hayden: A favorite with compact, glossy star-shaped leaves – deep olive above and reddish brown below. Pink blossoms. Height: 15 to 30 inches. Rhizomatous.

• Looking Glass: Striking, ruffle-edged leaves, shiny silver with green veins above, red below. Height: 18 to 24 inches. Canelike.

• Marmaduke: Attention-grabbing, bubbly textured leaves splashed with copper and gold. Tall sprays of pink flowers. Height: 12 to 15 inches. Rhizomatous.

• Orococo: Absolute showstopper with slightly pebbled, coppery green-gold leaves edged in rust borne on burgundy stems. Perfect for hanging baskets. Height: 10 to 12 inches. Trailing.

River Nile: Eye-catching black-to-reddish-brown-edged chartreuse leaves with ruffled edges and swirled centers. Pink blossoms borne on 27-inch spikes. Height: 20 inches. Rhizomatous.

Once you start growing begonias, you can easily become hooked. One pot can become a tabletop full of plants. Remember which ones your friends admire, and you can surprise them with their own plant.

Before you know it, you may be trading cuttings with other enthusiasts. In the meantime, you'll be adding wonderful splashes of color and texture to your home in winter (and you can move them outdoors in summer).

Growing Tips

For the best possible begonias, follow these guidelines:

• Grow indoors year-round or in summer outdoors in containers.

• Give filtered light or partial shade; no direct sun.

• Use rich, well-drained soil.

• Let soil dry slightly between waterings.

• Place pots on a tray of gravel with water to provide humidity in winter.

• Keep temperatures above 60 degrees F. indoors.

• Feed from March through October.

Simple propagation techniques

Clear, plastic 35-mm film canisters make excellent containers for growing leaf cuttings, as the rim of the container supports the leaf in an upright position.

• Cut leaf off plant; be sure leaf has one inch of stem.

• Trim leaf so it is no larger than 2 inches in diameter.

• Put cutting in a film canister or other small container. Add water to cover bottom one-quarter of stem.

• Put cutting under grow lights. Mist daily and maintain water level. Roots should form in about three weeks.

• After four weeks, transplant rooted cutting into lightly moistened potting soil.

Begonia resources

The American Begonia Society San Francisco

Glasshouse Works
Stewart, Ohio

Kartuz Greenhouses
Vista, Calif.

Lauray of Salisbury
Salisbury, Conn.

Logee's Greenhouses
Danielson, Conn.

White Flower Farm
Litchfield, Conn.