Begonia boliviensis for Shade and Cleome for Butterflies, Bees and Birds

May 7, 2024

This summer at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, we are focusing our educational programming on pollinators. We have some fun and vivacious plants scheduled for the gardens. One of the ideas we had was to plant an entire area of Cleome or spider flower. We just adore these summer annuals from South America as they draw in swarms of butterflies, bees, and birds.

Cleome Hassleriana at Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Canada. Image by lezumbalaberenjena.

(Ok, I have to hit the brakes… I’m only kidding. This was my response to Rochelle’s post on Cleome yesterday. We do have a small patch of C. ‘Senorita Rosalita’ on the drawing board.)

The vivid red flowers Begonia boliviensis is a waterfall of red blossoms in a summer garden.

Now, onto my real plant of the week, which is also a flowering machine from South America. (Please, please, please, Rochelle, do not hate this one either.)

I was looking for a plant that could provide a bright punch for a slightly shaded border near the front entry doors of CMBG. My boss wondered if I had considered a Begonia.

Growing Begonia boliviensis

I was using Begonia ‘Whopper Red’ nearby so another Begonia would be a nice fit. After some digging, we came up with Begonia boliviensis.

Begonia boliviensis ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ from Promessed Fleurs.

We had used B. boliviensis ‘Bonfire’ in the past, so I started searching for other cultivars. This is when I came across B. ‘Santa Cruz Sunset.’ Oooh, I was sold on the name. My spiritual animal is a California surf dude like Jeff Spicoli so sunsets over the Pacific from Santa Cruz sounded appealing, especially during this Maine winter.

Begonia boliviensis in general, likes the soil and air to be warm in order to really grow and flower.

We will not plant ours out until well after Memorial Day. By then, hopefully, the soil temperatures will be above 65, and our night temperatures will not be below the mid- to low 50s.

As the summer warms, these plants do take off like a bonfire, producing large, 2″ long, tuberous flowers until frost. B. Santa Cruz Sunset’ appears to be a heavier flowering selection with more red in its flowers. B. ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ is a seed strain so it can be grown directly from seed rather than cuttings.

And like Rochelle’s beloved Cleome, Begonia boliviensis is a hummingbird magnet. 😉

A smorgasbord of a BIG planter for shade! Aspargus ferns, Begonia boliviensis, Begonia ‘Ebony’, Black Mondo Grass various Rhipsalis, Ivy and Teardrop Peperomia; all somewhat tolerant of dry shade. Image and Design By Avant Gardens.

The leaves on Begonia boliviensis differ from what might first come to your mind. The leaves are long and narrow, with slightly wavy edges.

If you plant these plants in late spring/early summer, expect an 18-24″ mound by the end of summer. Their drooping growth habit works well in a container or hanging basket.

Also, you can dig these plants up in the fall and store them in a cool, dry shed or basement, as you would a canna or banana. Let the plants go totally dry and dormant, and they should emerge the following spring.

Begonia boliviensis is native to high-altitude areas of the Andes in Bolivia and Argentina, so they can survive periods of dry dormancy.

Have you grown ‘Bonfire,’ ‘Santa Cruz Sunset,’ or any of the Bolivian begonias before?


P.S. – sorry, Rochelle, for the Cleome jab.

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  1. rochelle says:

    Ha Ha Rodney 😉 – But I am glad you aren’t planning a strictly cleome garden…sounds a bit boring.

  2. rochelle says:

    Rodney – you are such a tease…I mean really, Cleome, pansies and petunias…sounds like the best garden evah!

  3. Jeck says:

    Spider flowers are amazing and is only an annual. Once temperature warm up in summer it zooms to 4 feet and produces large balls of flowers.

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