Few species shine the same way as Begonia Pavonina in the fascinating world of Begonias. And we mean that literally. When light hits the leaves, they glow with a mesmerizing, metallic blue shine that almost looks like magic.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about growing the iridescent Peacock Begonia, from water, humidity, and soil requirements to the propagation and even terrarium cultivation.
- What Is a Begonia Pavonina?
- Begonia Pavonina Care
- Features of Begonia Pavonina
- Growing in a Terrarium
What Is a Begonia Pavonina?
Begonia Pavonina is a flowering plant from the tropical forests of peninsular Malaysia. It is a species of rhizomatous begonia, producing leaf clusters that shoot up from a rhizome that creeps along the soil surface. Known as the Peacock Begonia, it is popular for the blue iridescence of its foliage.
Begonia Pavonina Care
Caring for Begonia Pavonina requires a precise balancing act between all its growing conditions. You need to be careful about the amount of light it receives, the humidity, watering schedule, potting mix, and more.
If you’ve never had a begonia before, you may find caring for this species a bit difficult. But if you’ve recently added it to your collection, we’ll explain everything you need to know to keep it happy and thriving.
Begonia Pavonina can be grown in either pots or terrariums. In the first section of this guide, we’ll discuss container growth and take a closer look at terrarium cultivation further down.
Let’s get started with the basics:
Finding the right watering schedule for your Begonia Pavonina is a bit tricky. The plant has a shallow root system and requires the soil to be moist at all times but not soaked. It’s very easy to accidentally overwater this plant, which is why you need to be very careful about the type of soil used.
As mentioned above, a 1:1 ratio of peat moss and perlite is ideal. Without it, the health of your begonia will decline in no time.
The correct way to water Begonia Pavonina is using the soak and drain method. Once a week, slowly pour room-temperature water over the top of the soil until you see it drip through the drainage holes.
Wait until the water has stopped dripping entirely, then put the pot back on its tray. Never use bottom watering for this species.
Depending on the temperature and humidity levels in your home, you may need to water your Peacock Begonia more frequently. Always test the soil with your finger, and try not to wait until the surface of the soil feels bone dry to the touch.
If you notice that the leaves are starting to droop, that’s a sign that your begonia is thirsty, so give it a good soak immediately.
To better understand its light requirements, you need to understand why Begonia Pavonina leaves shine blue.
In the wild, the Peacock Begonia grows deep in the forest understory, where it receives very little sunlight. To help with photosynthesis, the chloroplasts in their leaves have evolved a type of membranous compartments called thylakoids, which are arranged in a way that allows the plant to absorb more light.
The arrangement of these thylakoids also reflects blue light, which is why the leaves have a blue iridescence. Some botanists believe that the red abaxial (or underside) coloration of the leaves also helps the plant absorb more sunlight.
It’s interesting to note that lower light levels help Begonia Pavonina leaves become even more iridescent. On the other hand, too much light will reduce their blue shine. Admittedly, this coloration is only visible when light hits the leaves at the right angle.
But this doesn’t mean that you should grow your begonia in full sun, just so you can see its leaves sparkle all the time.
Our recommendation is to grow Begonia Pavonina in indirect or diffused light. Pick a room with eastern or western exposure, and place the pot at least three feet away from the windows.
Make sure that the sun never touches the leaves. Direct sunlight will scorch the foliage, and too much light exposure will make the leaves gradually reduce their blue iridescence.
Begonia Pavonina needs a potting mix that is well-draining but also moisture-retentive, aerated, and slightly alkaline, with a pH ranging from five to seven. Our recommendation is to pot it in a mix that is one part peat moss and one part perlite.
Using the right type of substrate is crucial for this plant’s health. Begonia Pavonina has a shallow root system, which means that the roots tend to spread out horizontally just below the soil surface. It also means that the roots are susceptible to drought but also being wet all the time.
If your potting mix doesn’t drain well enough, it will become waterlogged, the oxygen levels in the substrate will drop, and root rot will soon set in. On the other hand, a soil mix that drains too fast causes the roots to dry out.
Keep in mind that underwatering can also result in root rot. Dried roots will die, and next time you water the plant, they will slowly begin to rot, and this rot will spread out to the healthy roots.
Begonia Pavonina grows best in cool temperatures, and its optimal growth range is between 50 and 75 F (13 to 24 C). This plant also enjoys colder temperatures during the night, which also helps increase the metallic blue coloration of the leaves.
Avoid exposing your begonia to extreme temperatures and hot or cold drafts. Keep in mind that, even though it prefers cooler temperatures, the Peacock Begonia is not frost tolerant.
Some sources suggest that you can grow Begonia Pavonina outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10a and 11. However, it’s important to note that those zones can be too hot for this plant, especially in summer, when temperatures routinely soar above 86 F (30 C).
Although the plant can survive outdoors, it will not thrive. The Peacock Begonia is still rare on the houseplant market, so we encourage you to make the most of it by only growing it indoors.
Begonia Pavonina needs lots of humidity to thrive. Ideally, you should aim for a humidity level between 60 and 80 percent. This level is significantly higher than the average air moisture found indoors, and the easiest way to achieve it is by using a humidifier.
Other alternatives include grouping it with other plants that love humidity, placing it on a pebble tray, or growing your begonia in a terrarium.
Should you mist your Begonia Pavonina? Our answer is no. Not only is misting ineffective at raising the humidity to the levels needed by this plant, but it also helps spread pathogens. The Peacock Begonia is very susceptible to fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew, and misting can result in such infections.
Begonia Pavonina is a light feeder and needs fertilizer applications once a month throughout spring and summer. You can use a balanced fertilizer with a 20-20-20 nutrient ratio, diluted to a quarter of the strength. The plant won’t need any additional nutrients from early autumn until the end of winter.
– Pruning and Maintenance
The Peacock Begonia doesn’t need much pruning. Like all species of rhizomatous begonia, it doesn’t grow very tall, so you won’t need to cut it back the same way you would with cane begonias.
Simply remove any old, yellowing leaves from the bottom of the plant when needed. You can also trim some of the leaves if you want to propagate them. Remember to always sterilize your pruning tools before use.
Begonia Pavonina has a slow growth rate but still needs to be repotted once a year. The best time to do this is in spring, just as the plant enters its growing season. We recommend using a container that’s one size or two inches (five centimeters) larger than its previous one.
When repotting it, always handle the plant with great care. Its roots are very fragile and can tear easily, which can result in transplant shock.
The easiest way to propagate Begonia Pavonina is through leaf cuttings. You can also use stem cuttings, rhizome cuttings, and even seeds, but using leaf cuttings is by far the fastest and most fail-proof method. We recommend propagating your Peacock Begonia in spring or early summer.
Here’s our step-by-step propagation guide:
- Use a sharp, sterilized pair of scissors and cut a leaf from your begonia with a petiole that’s about an inch long.
- Then, cut the leaf horizontally in a circular shape, about one-third away from its center. This method is known as leaf cone cutting, and it’s the best way to ensure that the new plant will be bushy.
- Take a clear plastic container that’s wide, shallow, and has a transparent lid that can be closed tight. Fill it with a mix of perlite and peat moss. You can also use a 100 percent perlite mix, but you’ll have to check it more often to ensure it doesn’t dry out.
- Use a spray pump to moisten the substrate, then add your cuttings. If the cutting has a petiole, simply stick the petiole in the mix. For the rest of the leaf, wedge it in the mix with the cut side down, then cover the base with a bit of substrate. Press the soil around the cuttings to keep them in place.
- Close the lid on the container, and keep it in a room that’s warm and bright but away from any direct sunlight.
- Check the container once every five to seven days and water lightly when the top of the substrate feels dry to the touch.
- Over the next three to four weeks, you will see small clusters of leaves grow from the veins of the leaf cuttings. As the plants grow, the cut leaf will slowly begin to dry out.
- Keep the baby plants in the container for at least another month after they start growing leaves. Then, gently take them out and plant them in separate pots. To increase their odds of becoming established, continue to cover them with a transparent plastic bag for another month after transplanting.
If your Begonia Pavonina is not provided with the right growing conditions, it can become a host for pests and diseases, particularly fungal ones. Here are the most common problems you’ll encounter when growing this plant.
– Powdery Mildew
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that attacks Begonia Pavonina grown in very humid conditions, low light, and poor air circulation. It’s easy to identify due to the white or light grey powdery spots on the leaves and stems. Once detected, we recommend trimming off the infected leaves with a sterilized pair of scissors.
Then, make a mix of one tablespoon of baking soda or potassium bicarbonate, half a teaspoon of Castile soap, and one gallon of water, and use it to spray the plant. In case of severe infestations, using a sulfur-based fungicide is best.
– Botrytis Blight
Also known as grey mold, this is another fungal disease that can affect your Peacock Begonia. It appears in cool, humid conditions and will form soft, brown spots on the foliage. To prevent it, we recommend that you avoid overcrowding your plants, getting the leaves wet, and feeding your begonia with too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Inspect the plant regularly, and remove the infected leaves immediately. You will need to use a fungicide that contains either chlorothalonil, thiophanate methyl, fenhexamid, or iprodione for badly infested plants. Always use these fungicides according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
– Pythium Blight
Pythium blight is caused by several types of parasitic organisms. In houseplants, they are usually carried on the feet of fungus gnats and are then transmitted to the plant, resulting in stem and root rot. This disease can be fatal for your begonia, and the best way to deal with it is using a specialized fungicide.
– Spider Mites, Mealybugs, and Scale
This trio of pests is very common in begonias. Although it’s unlikely that your plant will be infected with all three at the same time, they have similar feeding patterns, cause similar types of damage, and are usually found in the same place: the underside of the leaves. Also, getting rid of them requires the same, very simple solution.
Mix four parts of water and one part of isopropyl alcohol, and use it to wipe the leaves of your plant to remove the pests. Then, spray this solution on the leaves once every five to seven days for a month.
Thrips are troublesome pests because they are very small, difficult to detect, and their larvae eat the leaves from inside out. If you notice any leaves with silvery or transparent spots, trim them off immediately.
Then, use a mild insecticidal soap solution or an organic insecticide such as pyrethrin, and spray it on the leaves to keep the infestation at bay.
Features of Begonia Pavonina
At first glance, Begonia Pavonina looks deceivingly ordinary. Its leaves are about 5 inches in size, greenish-brown or olive, with dark red undersides.
But when the light hits them at the right angle, or when you photograph them using flash, their secret comes out.
Each leaf comes alive with a dazzling blue iridescence. It’s easy to see why some houseplant lovers also refer to it as the Iridescent Begonia or the Metallic Blue Begonia.
In spring and summer, Begonia Pavonina will also produce small, pendent clusters of pale pink flowers.
This is a great plant to add to your collection if you don’t have a lot of space. It typically grows to a height of 16 inches (around 40 centimeters) and can spread out to a width of about eight inches (20 centimeters).
Growing in a Terrarium
Begonia Pavonina needs high humidity, constant temperatures, and a substrate that doesn’t dry out too fast. This plant makes an excellent choice for terrarium growth. However, there are some key differences between growing it in a pot and the enclosed environment of a terrarium. Here’s what you need to know.
– Understanding Terrarium Layers
One of the most common mistakes when growing begonias in terrariums is using regular potting soil for the substrate. On its own, potting soil from a garden center does not provide enough drainage and becomes easily compacted. To keep the plant healthy, you will need to use several potting media arranged in distinct layers.
Here are the layers we recommend using for your terrarium, starting from the bottom:
- The first layer needs to provide a place for any excess water to drain into. It should be made out of pebbles, LECA, pea gravel, small river rocks, or a mix of all four. You can also add a mesh layer on top of it to prevent bits of substrate from falling to the bottom.
- Next comes the horticultural charcoal layer. This will act as a filter for any impurities, and due to its antifungal and antibacterial properties, it will help keep the terrarium clean of pathogens.
- Last but not least, is the substrate layer. This is the most important layer of your terrarium, and your begonia’s health will depend greatly on it. It should be porous, well-draining, and also moisture retentive. The American Begonia Society recommends using a mix of sphagnum moss and perlite for this layer. Alternatively, you can use a mix of coir, perlite, sphagnum moss, and vermicompost.
– How To Water Begonia in a Terrarium
To better understand how terrarium watering works, imagine that you’re watering a plant in a pot without drainage holes. Any water that goes in will stay there, and if too much builds up at the bottom, it will result in algae and pathogen growth.
We recommend moistening the substrate with a spray pump before adding your begonia until the soil feels slightly damp to the touch. If you see water pooling at the bottom, you used too much and will need to start over with your layers.
If you’re using a closed terrarium for your Begonia Pavonina, the plant will need little to no water after it’s been planted. For open terrariums, check the substrate regularly and water it lightly when the top feels dry to the touch.
– What Type of Container Should You Use for a Terrarium?
You need a container that’s large enough as Begonia Pavonina can grow up to 16 inches tall and eight inches wide. You can use a fish tank or a round glass bowl. For cuttings or very young plants, you can even use mason jars. Give the container a very good clean before you put anything in it.
– Is Begonia Pavonina Toxic?
Yes. The ASPCA states that over 1,000 species and 10,000 begonia hybrids are toxic to cats and dogs. These plants contain soluble calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause vomiting, drooling, nausea, and even kidney failure if ingested. Our recommendation is to keep Begonia Pavonina away from pets, as well as small kids.
– How Much Light Do Terrarium Plants Need?
Terrarium plants need bright indirect light. Any amount of direct sunlight can be fatal. The walls of the terrarium will act as a magnifying glass and burn the leaves.
Also, direct sun will drastically increase the temperature in the terrarium. To ensure that your begonia receives enough light and is growing evenly, we also recommend rotating the container once a week.
There is a lot to know about how to grow a healthy and happy Begonia Pavonina indoors. Before you get started, let’s do one last quick recap of the essentials:
- Begonia Pavonina is a tropical flowering plant with leaves that shine a metallic blue when the light hits them.
- The plant has a bushy growth habit and rarely grows taller than 16 inches.
- It is a high-maintenance plant that needs a perfect balance between high humidity, indirect light, cool temperatures, and well-draining soils to stay healthy.
- It also makes an excellent choice for growing in terrariums.
- In the wrong growing conditions, it can be very susceptible to pests and fungal diseases.
Begonia Pavonina may seem intimidating for beginners, but its stunning foliage will be a great reward for all your hard work.
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