The polka dot begonia or spotted begonia, Begonia maculata, is an attractive and very covetable house plant. Its heart-shaped leaves have silver spots and dark red undersides, which are said to have inspired fashion designer Christian Louboutin to create his trademark red-soled stillettos.
Native to Brazilian rainforests, Begonia maculata has a reputation of being a little tricky to grow. The secret is to mimic those rainforest conditions as closely as you can – providing warmth, humidity and bright but indirect light (no direct sun). If the plant is happy it may reward you with hanging clusters of small white or pink flowers in summer.
Begonia maculata is a ‘cane’ begonia, which means that is has upright stems that have different segments, like a bamboo cane. These are also known as ‘angel wing’ begonias thanks to their beautiful leaves.
The polka dot begonia is toxic to humans and animals if ingested, so keep away from children and pets.
Read more about growing begonias in the garden and as house plants.
How to grow polka dot begonia
The polka dot begonia needs a warm, bright spot and a constant temperature of no less than 15°C – more if possible. It does best in a humid environment, so growing it in a kitchen or bathroom is ideal. Alternatively, stand on a tray of moist pebbles.
Growing polka dot begonia: jump links
- Planting polka dot begonia
- Caring for polka dot begonia
- Growing polka dot begonia: problem-solving
- Advice on buying polka dot begonia
Where to grow polka dot begonia
Grow Begonia maculata in a consistently warm, bright spot – a couple of feet from an east- or west-facing window is ideal. It does best in a humid environment, so grow it in a naturally humid room, such as a kitchen or bathroom, or stand on a tray of moist pebbles. Avoid misting the leaves directly. Also avoid growing near draughts or radiators.
How to plant polka dot begonia
Plant into a pot that’s slightly larger than the rootball, in peat-free house plant or multi-purpose compost with some perlite added to aid aeration and drainage. Repot in spring, into a slightly larger pot.
Caring for polka dot begonia
Keep the compost moist but not soggy from spring to autumn and water more sparingly in winter. Feed with a balanced fertiliser every month in spring and summer.
If the stems get too leggy or gangly, pinch out the growing tips in summer and the plant should become more bushy. The plant may need staking as it grows.
Growing polka dot begonia: problem solving
Brown patches on leaves – could be due to sun scorch if the plant is in too sunny a spot
Pale colour – too much sun
Wilting – the plant may be overwatered. Check that it does not have root rot. It may also not be getting enough light
White fluffy spots on the undersides of the leaves are mealybugs – wipe off with cotton wool soaked in organic insecticide
White powder on the leaves is powdery mildew. Remove the affected leaves and avoid splashing the leaves when watering, don’t overfeed and improve air circulation around the plant
Advice on buying polka dot begonia
- Look for the polka dot begonia at the garden centre or buy from a specialist house plant shop or online retailer
- Check you have the right conditions – it needs a warm, bright, humid spot