I recently rescued two Polka Dot Begonias from a garden center. I wasn't intending to buy any plants but walking past the house plant sale stand I spotted it and took a double-take at this beauty!
Even though they were looking a bit poorly and unloved and were in a dark corner of the store and I knew there was a risk of losing them both I just could not resist taking both home.
I picked up one then just had to go back for the other one. They were much reduced in price and I was worried the other one would die if I did not take it.
Of course, I would have to give the wise advice to buy only well cared for healthy houseplants for a good chance of success and a long-lived indoor plant. However, I just cannot resist the challenge of bringing an uncared or unloved plant back to good health.
Sometimes I lose them but often it works so for me is worth the risk.
What is The Polka Dot Begonia
The polka dot begonia otherwise known as Begonia Maculata is a very striking unmissable indoor plant.
It has beautiful distinctive leaves almost in a wing shape, with very elongated graceful leaves.
The leaves are a very dark rich green and the top of the leaves are exquisitely dotted with brighter green and almost silvery spots or dots. Hence the name "Polka Dot "
Underneath the leaves are a beautiful reddish colour. When young the leaves are a lighter fresh green and develop into a darker colour as they age.
Other popular names for the Polka Dot Begonia plant are Angel Wing Begonia and I can see this due to the shape and the way it holds its gorgeous leaves like an angel would. Other common names are Spotted Begonia clearly due to the spots on all its leaves.
I have more trouble understanding the name Trout Begonia but then I do not know so much about fish. Perhaps it's thought by some to have the markings of a Trout?
Also known as Clown begonia though I am not sure why it got this common name as personally I do not see anything clown-like about it, this plant is far too exotic and beautiful!
For the purposes of this article, we will call it the Polka Dot Begonia plant.
In Spring and Summer, it can bear little pink and white flowers, but I love this plant mainly for its striking and unusual leaves.
Flowers grow on a single stem and you are more likely to get them if the plant is totally happy in its environment.
Perhaps conversely if we want flowers we should allow the plant to become slightly potbound as this does encourage flowering. I would certainly not be disappointed if there were no flowers, to me they are a bonus, not a necessity.
Where to Place A Polka Dot Begonia
As with all houseplants, the best way to ensure a happy healthy plant and a chance of flowers is to place your plant in the right spot in the home and for that, we need to know the conditions of its native country.
It originates in Brazil and as you will know if you have read my other houseplant reviews once we take these plants into our homes we are totally responsible for replicating conditions as close as possible to their native environment.
This plant likes bright light but it needs to be indirect light so is best near a window but not on a sunny windowsill.
Too much sunshine will burn the leaves and cause them to turn brown and there is little that can be done once this has occurred.
So any sunlight must be filtered light via an obscured window or blinds or by placing the plant far enough away from the window or perhaps behind other plants.
It can cope with a shady environment or even a little dark if we cannot provide indirect sunlight. However, in that case, we must accept that its leaves may be smaller and shorter than they otherwise would grow and we are unlikely to get any flowers,
It does like to be at a fairly constant temperature of 18 to 30 degrees centigrade which is good news as most of our homes will be around these temperatures much of the time.
The Polka dot plant can be very happy in bathrooms and kitchens as it will enjoy the higher humidity in these rooms.
It can also be fine in living areas as long as the humidity is kept high. We keep our two in our living room on large saucers of pebbles. One is in a group with other plants and the other is about a foot away from each of its neighbors.
How To Provide Humidity For Houseplants
Regular misting around the plant is important to maintain high levels of humidity but this I find it difficult to do properly as we should not be getting the leaves directly misted.
An alternative and easier way of raising humidity is to have a couple of plants grouped together, as a few plants together raises humidity.
In addition, I place the plant on a large saucer or plant tray of ordinary pebbles and keeping those pebbles moist gives a higher humidity.
Problems to look out for are powdery mildew. This can occur if the leaves get wet, so when watering avoid the leaves becoming wet.
It is difficult when misting as inevitably in my experience the leaves get damp no matter how far away you mist and I cannot get this right.
I think a better solution for this plant is to set it on a tray of pebbles with water and site it near other plants to give that higher humidity it likes. This will usually do what is necessary.
If you have a lot of plants that need high humidity you can invest in a houseplant humidifier which I understand is worthwhile, but I don't have one of these and so prefer to use the pebble and grouping techniques.
Warnings About the Polka Dot Plant
The polka dot plant is somewhat toxic so best to keep it out of reach of cats and dogs.
As a mildly toxic plant, they may need to chew on it and eat a fair amount to do harm, but I would not be prepared to take that risk and prefer to be cautious and keep it out of the way of any pets.
Soil Conditions, Feeding and Watering The Polka Dot Plant
Soil should be light not heavy or clay, but it does need to retain some water. A light houseplant-specific soil is good and adding perlite for extra free-draining abilities makes a good mix to make sure it is well-drained but retentive. The pot needs to have good drainage holes and this houseplant must never sit in standing water.
The Polka dot plant needs to be fed regularly in its growing season which is Spring and Summer. The feed should be a good quality balanced feed and given about once a month or a little more often if you feel it needs it.
Overfeeding this plant can also be harmful so better to err on the side of caution. There is no need to feed at all in autumn and winter just resume feeding again in April.
The other important note to mention is that although it likes a moist soil, It is important not to get the water too soggy as this can easily lead to root rot which tends to be fatal for the plant.
In the winter it will need less watering maybe about once every two weeks and in the summer once a week watering is usually sufficient.
If it is very hot then water every four or five days may be needed.
A good way to tell if it needs more water is simply to put your finger into the soil for a depth of about an inch. If it feels dry to this level then more water is required, if damp or wet there is no need for more water.
Final Thoughts About The Polka Dot Begonia
Personally, I would not say this is a beginners houseplant. We cannot get away with not knowing its needs or forgetting to check it.
For example, I was worried when I first got it that the lower leaves started to drop off when I learned that it does not like being moved let alone taken from a warm indoor store outside in the cold to my car then back into a different indoor environment. Essentially it suffered a little shock. However, by being careful not to move it too much since it came home it has recovered with no more leaf drop.
A Spider plant or Mother-in-Laws Tongue for example is very forgiving of any mistakes and will tend most of the time to bounce back from neglect or mistakes while this plant is more of a challenge.
It is easier to care for in summer than in winter in my experience just because of light and humidity levels naturally occurring.
If you want to buy it as a gift do make sure the recipient is good with houseplants and do write out a simple care plan for them in case they do not know this plant.
However, it is an exceptionally beautiful, really striking houseplant that is a pleasure to look at and makes a really beautiful plant to have in the home.
In my opinion, it is one of the more stunning houseplants and one of the most gorgeous I own. So it is worth learning about and looking after, as if we do get it right, even with the neglected plants I bought, there is a good chance the plant will survive and thrive.
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