How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Begonia Maculata

Begonias are an extremely popular indoor and outdoor plant. Due to its unique look, the begonia maculata has become more popular in recent years as both an indoor and outdoor cultivar. They have beautiful spotted leaves, and vibrant blooms when in season. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton takes you through each step to plant, grow, and care for begonia maculata.

Begonia Maculata

Many Begonia species are popular houseplants, either grown for their pretty blooms or eye-catching foliage. Begonia maculata, with its unique and striking leaves, has become a trending species of this genus across social media platforms.

Begonia maculata is also known as the Polka Dot Begonia. It gets this very apt nickname from the silvery spots that cover its dark, olive-green leaves. While it may not be as popular as other houseplants, it’s slowly becoming more popular due to its striking appearance.

Begonia maculata isn’t too difficult to care for, but it does have specific needs when it comes to light, temperature, and water. Luckily, in this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know to keep yours looking as striking as ever.

Plant Overview

Mature Plant

Plant Type

Houseplant

Family

Begoniaceae

Genus

Begonia

Species

B. Maculata

Native Area

Central America, Asia, South Africa

Exposure

Bright, indirect light

Height

5’

Watering Requirements

Moderate/Low

Pests & Diseases

Whiteflies, mealybugs

Diseases

powdery mildew, bacterial leaf spot

Maintenance

Low

Soil Type

Airy and well-draining

What is Begonia maculata?

Red Leaf Detail
This spotted beauty is commonly known as a Polka Dot Begonia.

Begonia maculata is one of the newer members of the Begonia genus, which contains thousands of different species and hybrids. Begonias of all shapes and sizes typically make great indoor and outdoor plants. Some, however, are more suited for the indoor lifestyle. The Begonia maculata is one of them.  

Begonia maculata goes by many names – Spotted Begonia, Clown Begonia, and even Trout Begonia. Sometimes, it’s known as the Angel Wing Begonia because its arrow-like leaves resemble wings, along with several other species.  However, it most commonly goes by Polka Dot Begonia because its somewhat uniform spots look like carefully placed polka dots.

This plant is part of the Cane Begonia sub-group. This group is known for its angel-wing leaves and thick, bamboo-like stems, which hold a lot of water.  It’s this minor characteristic that makes it a great, easy-going houseplant.

As a bonus, these striking, easy-going plants take it even further. During summer and spring, this plant produces white or soft pink flowers. These delicate blooms contrast beautifully with the dark, sharp, and spotted leaves.

Unfortunately, this plant is toxic to pets and humans if ingested. It’s best to place this begonia variety in a spot where no curious hands or paws can reach it.

History & Origins

Polka Dot Plant
This plant was first officially documented in the late 1600s.

Like so many other plants, the Spotted Begonias history is shrouded in a bit of mystery.

Begonias were first officially documented in the late 1600s by Charles Plumier, a French Botanist and Monk. Plumier was allegedly searching for medicinal plants and upon finding Begonias, named them after the governor of Haiti and his favorite botanist, Michel Begon. But this is not their first encounter with humanity, as some research shows Begonias were used in China during the 1300s.

The Polka Dot Begonia was discovered in Brazil. However, no one is quite sure when it was first spotted. Some state that the famous Italian Botanist, Giuseppe Raddi discovered it in Brazil and named it for its spotted leaves. The Latin word macula translates to spotted.

Begonias spread across the world throughout the centuries and have been used for more than their beauty. In many areas, their sought-after flowers were used to ease burns, while Begonia sap helped soothe toothache. The sap was also allegedly used to cure kidney ailments. In China, Begonias become key ingredients in medicines used to help swelling, reduce cold symptoms, ease upset stomachs and disinfect wounds.

Keep in mind that while history shows us the usefulness of Begonias, these plants are toxic to pets and humans. This variety is no exception. 

Native Area

Like the rest of the Begonia family, Begonia maculata is native to tropical climates. This striking beauty is believed to have originated in Brazil, but it can be found across the world. Most common in Central and South America, it can also be found in Asia and Southern Africa.

Similar to many pothos plants, Begonias thrive in jungle-like environments, taking over forest floors. Thanks to their natural habitat, Begonias flourish in high-humidity areas with warm temperatures – conditions we can easily accommodate indoors.

Characteristics

Healthy Green Leaves
With polka dot leaf fronts and red backs, this plant makes a striking addition to your houseplant collection.

The Polka Dot Begonia is hard to miss. Its extravagant leaves are eye-catching and stand out amongst other houseplants.

The arrow-shaped leaves are a deep, dark olive green with uniform white dots splattered across them. Many liken their shape to angel or bat wings. The undersides of these already unique leaves are a deep red – resembling a striking pair of Louboutins. Rumor has it the red under-leaves inspired the classic heel and Louboutin style.

These striking leaves grow from thick, cane-like stems that resemble bamboo shoots.

Spotted Begonias produce stunning white and pale pink blossoms. If given the right care, this plant will reward you with these pretty blooms. They typically flower in late winter, through spring and early summer. They grow in clusters from the cane-like stems, creating contrast against the dark and angular leaves.

Their beautiful leaves have made them an instant social media darling. While they may not be as rare or expensive as a Pink Princess Philodendron, they are certainly more budget-friendly, and many would argue they are just as beautiful.

Where To Purchase

Flowering Begonia at Plant Store
This begonia variety is quite common and can be purchased both online, and at local nurseries.

Begonia maculata is a highly sought-after plant for its striking, unique leaves. Its popularity has soared over the years, making it relatively easy to find. It should be readily available in most nurseries and garden centers.

While it’s not as rare as several other variegated houseplants, these plants can have a hefty price tag in some stores. Because of its cost, always check the health of your plant before carting it home.

While the Spotted Begonia is a common, readily available plant, your best bet is to purchase it online. In most cases, the Begonia maculata is more affordable in online stores. Smaller, younger plants are appealingly cheaper, but larger, established plants are always the better buy. It may cost you more, but they have a far better chance of survival after shipping.

If you’ve got a friend or neighbor with this beautiful houseplant and aren’t willing to risk online delivery, you can always ask for a cutting. This begonia variety is an easy plant to propagate through stem cuttings.

How to Grow

How to Grow
Easy care makes this plant a great option for beginners.

Despite what their striking looks may imply, Polka Dot Begonias are easy plants to care for. This leafy beauty has very similar care requirements to many other low-maintenance houseplants, making it perfect for both beginners and experienced indoor plant parents.

Light

Healthy Leaves
This plant needs bright, indirect light in order to be at its best.

Sunlight is one of the most important elements of Begonia maculata care. The right amount of light will keep this plant looking vibrant and striking.

Like many other houseplants, this plant requires plenty of bright, indirect sunlight to truly thrive. This mimics the dappled sunlight it is familiar with in its natural habitat. 

Luckily, it’s easy to tell if your Polka Dot Begonia isn’t getting the correct amount of sunlight. Too little light will leave your plant looking dull, with its bright silvery spots and deep green hue fading. In extreme cases, the vibrant leaves will begin to yellow.

Too much sunlight, on the other hand, can have disastrous consequences. The leaves are quite sensitive, especially to a lot of direct sunlight. They’ll brown, and show other signs of scorching like curling, dried edges.

The best way to avoid too much or too little sunlight is to place it in a spot that receives a full day of indirect light. This is usually near a west or east-facing window. If your space only receives direct light, consider hanging sheer curtains. This helps filter the harsh rays, without darkening your space. This plant is a perfect plant for low light conditions if you plan to move it around into areas that get a bit more indirect sunlight through the day.

If you plan on moving your Spotted Begonia outdoors during the summer months, place it in a shady spot or area that receives dappled light.

Water

Proper Watering
Although this plant loves moist soil, only water when the top layer of soil is dry.

Thanks to their tropical origins, Begonia maculatas are lovers of moisture and water. However, they aren’t fans of soggy or waterlogged soil, which can quickly result in root rot. Luckily, the balance needed for a happy plant is very easy to manage.

Too little water causes wilting, curling and yellowing. Overwatering also has severe consequences. If your Spotted Begonia sits in waterlogged soil for too long, it will encounter root rot and may develop fungal diseases.

Root rot symptoms are easy to spot. The leaves will slowly begin to yellow and in severe cases will drop off the plant. The stem will also become mushy just above the soil line, resulting in the drooping of the plant.

As we can see, correct watering methods are extremely important for the overall health of your plant. When watering, do so slowly and deeply, to allow the water to soak throughout the soil without waterlogging it. It’s also important to ensure that your pot has sufficient drainage holes.

The stunning leaves are also sensitive to water, so it’s best to avoid overhead watering methods. If you do accidentally splash the leaves, gently dry them using a clean, dry cloth or paper towel.

When you water your plants is just as important as how you water them. When it comes to tropical plants like Begonia maculata, it’s best to avoid a strict watering schedule.

Environmental conditions can change every day, affecting how quickly the soil dries out. Instead, only water when the top layer of soil is dry. Use your finger to test the dryness of your soil every so often to determine the right time to water.

Soil

Proper Soil
Make your own light, airy soil or purchase a specialized houseplant mix.

The Polka Dot Begonia, like most houseplants, require specialized soil to flourish due to their indoor environments and homes in containers.

Garden soil often doesn’t have the correct aeration and can carry pests that spread to your indoor plants. Houseplant mixes have plenty of aeration and contain materials that help them drain effectively while staying moist enough to keep the plant happy.

Specialized houseplant mixes are easily available at your local nursery or online. However, if you have a lot of houseplants, it’s usually cheaper to make a homemade houseplant soil mix. The necessary materials are easy to come by and combine to make the perfect soil mix. It also allows you to adjust the mix according to your specific plants’ needs and your environmental conditions.

Begonia maculata needs potting soil mixed with perlite and coconut coir, or peat moss. These materials aerate the soil while retaining just the right amount of water, without weighing it down. 

Your Begonia maculata, and the rest of your houseplants, will thrive with a soil mix ratio of 2:1:1 – two parts potting soil, one part perlite, and one part peat moss or coconut coir. You can easily add more or less of each material in your mix, depending on your plant’s needs.

Temperature and Humidity

Increase Humidity Around Plant
This plant thrives in warm temperatures and high humidity. Increase humidity by grouping your indoor plants together.

Polka Dot Begonias are tropical plants and thrive in jungle-like conditions. They grow best in warm temperatures with high levels of humidity and can’t tolerate the cold.

Luckily, typical indoor temperatures, which can range anywhere from 65F to 80F, are perfect for this plant. Lower temperatures can slow growth and result in your Spotted Begonia losing its vibrancy. Begonia maculata is also sensitive to cold drafts, so it’s best to keep it away from open windows.

Generally, if you’re comfortable, this plant – and your other indoor plants – will be too.

While the topical temperature needs of this striking beauty are easy to meet, its humidity requirements can be slightly more challenging.  In their native habitats, Polka Dot Begonias are accustomed to humidity levels as high as 75%.

While they can tolerate slightly lower levels of humidity in indoor climates, you might need to increase the moisture around your plants if you notice wilting or dropped leaves. Lower levels of humidity can also result in your Begonia maculata not flowering during the blooming season.

Improving Humidity

Polka Dot Plant Misted
Misting is one way you can improve the humid environment needed for this plant.

There are a few ways to ensure your Begonia maculata’s humidity needs are being met. You can simply place it in a bathroom, where humidity levels are typically higher than anywhere else in the home.

Alternatively, you can try misting it frequently. However, this is a time-consuming practice, and its humidifying effects only last a few minutes. The added water and moisture around your plants can also result in disease if not managed correctly.  

Another age-old trick is to place your indoor pot plant on a tray of pebbles and water. It’s said that as the water evaporates, humidity levels around your plants increase. While this trick does make an impact, in extremely dry air, it’s usually not enough to make a significant change.

Most plant parents also suggest grouping your indoor plants together. Placing plants close together can improve the overall humidity within that area. When grouping your plants, ensure there is still sufficient airflow between them to prevent the cultivation and spread of disease.

The best way to improve humidity levels, however, is to use a humidifier. It may be pricey, but it’s the best way to replicate the environment that this plant, and several other houseplants, love.

Fertilizing

Fertilizing Sticks
You can purchase slow release fertilizer sticks at your local nursery.

The Polka Dot Begonia is a relatively fast grower, especially if its needs are met. Like most houseplants, Begonia maculata grows best when it receives additional nutrients during the growing season. 

These nutrients are split into a few categories – macronutrients, micronutrients, and secondary nutrients. The macronutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – are the most important. However, micronutrients, like boron and iron, along with secondary nutrients such as magnesium and calcium, are just as essential to the overall health of your plants.

The best way to add these nutrients to your houseplants is by fertilizing them with a special houseplant fertilizer. These are usually water-soluble, diluted, and poured over the soil in conjunction with your watering routine. Unfortunately, liquid fertilizers tend to wash away quickly, meaning you may need to fertilize more frequently. 

There are also slow-release fertilizers available that release these important nutrients over time. You don’t run the risk of the nutrients washing away quickly, but you have far less control over how they are released.

When it comes to Spotted Begonias, it’s best to use a balanced liquid fertilizer. This provides the best ratio of nutrients to give your Begonia maculata everything it needs to thrive. It also allows for optimal leaf growth and flower production.

Always check the packaging of your fertilizer for the correct diluting and application instructions. Avoid putting too much fertilizer in your soil as it can burn the roots. It is better to under-fertilize your Begonia maculata, rather than overdo it.

Maintenance

Gently Wipe Leaves
Gently wipe down the leaves every few months with a damp cloth.

The Begonia maculata is not a high-maintenance houseplant. However, there are a few things you can do to keep this plant as striking and bold as the day you bought it.

The fast-growing nature of this plant can quickly have it looking leggy, rather than refined and striking. The best way to keep your Polka Dot Begonia from sprawling out is to prune it every so often. This not only helps keep the plant bushy, but it’s also important for its overall health.

To prune, use clean, sharp shears to cut off a few inches of the stem just above a node, leaving the node on the existing plant. This encourages new growth, resulting in a bushier Begonia maculata. Save your cuttings for propagation. It’s also very important to prune away any dead or dying leaves and stems; especially if they show signs of disease.

It’s best to prune at least once in fall, the end of its growing season. But you can trim any unwanted stems and leaves throughout the growing season.

The striking, spotted leaves of the Spotted Begonia are what make it so popular, however, they do tend to gather dust and debris. This dirty layer can hinder photosynthesis and transpiration, impacting growth and overall health. Every few months, gently wipe down the leaves using a clean, damp cloth. This not only makes the leaves sparkle but also encourages gas exchange.

While you’re cleaning the leaves, check for signs of pests or diseases and remove any debris from around the base of the plant.

Propagation

Polka Dot Plant Outdoors
Use stem cuttings for easy propagation.

Whether you’re wanting more plants for yourself or to sell in your area, or simply give them to a friend or neighbor, you’ll need to know how to propagate your Begonia maculata. Propagating isn’t a difficult process and there are several ways to get a new baby plant from a parent.

The best way to propagate Polka Dot Begonias is by stems cuttings – an extremely easy method of propagation. They can also be propagated from seeds; however, this is a more difficult process and it’s not always successful.

To successfully propagate your Spotted Begonia, follow these simple steps.

Clean Your Tools

Potting Tools
Be sure to clean your gardening tools prior to gathering your cuttings.

Before you start, always make sure your tools are cleaned and disinfected. Dirty garden tools often carry diseases and pests that can easily be transferred to your Begonia maculata.

After every use, it’s imperative to thoroughly clean your tools, even more so if you’ve just pruned diseased plants. A simple bleach solution will quickly get rid of harmful germs, along with a thorough cleaning using soapy water.

It’s also important to clean any glasses or pots that you may use, especially if they previously housed other plants.

Find a Stem

Choosing Stem
Choose your stem and cut just below the node.

Next, you need to find a stem. Always choose a healthy, established stem with at least one leaf, but preferably more.

Once you’ve chosen your stem, cut it off the parent plant just below the node. Nodes are small bumps along stems where new roots and leaves develop. Be careful not to damage to damage the node while cutting, as it may prevent new roots from emerging.

Now that you’ve got your chosen stem, remove any foliage on the lower half. Any leaves that are left behind will sit in water or soil and eventually rot, encouraging disease. Remove these leaves by hand or with your shears.

Rooting

Propagating Plant
Be sure to change our your water once a week.

Once your chosen stem – or stems – is ready, you can begin rooting. There are two ways to root stem cuttings, either in soil or water. Either works for Polka Dot Begonia cuttings.

To root in soil, fill your chosen pot with a propagation mix – a blend of perlite, vermiculite, and coconut coir. This mix creates the perfect conditions for healthy root growth. Bury your cutting in the soil, leaving the leaves above the soil line, and water deeply.

To root in water, fill a glass jar of choice with distilled or filtered water. Any glass tall enough to hold the stem is ideal, however, there are specialized propagation stations that turn this already fun process into a decorative feature. Gently place your stem cutting into your chosen glass. Ensure there are no leaves in the water and that the node is fully submerged.

While you wait for your little Begonia maculata cutting to produce roots, it’s important to care for it.

Soil-rooted cuttings should remain moist and be kept in a warm spot that receives plenty of indirect sunlight. 

Water-rooted cuttings, on the other hand, require a little more TLC. The water should be topped up frequently and replaced at least once a week. This is important as the plant depletes the oxygen in the water as it develops roots. Fresh water is also essential as dirty water can quickly result in disease.

Roots develop anywhere between five and seven weeks. After this time, the cutting should be ready for transplanting.

Repotting

Repotting Plant
For best growth, repot your plant once a year.

The fast-growing nature of this plant means it will quickly outgrow its pot, causing its roots to become compacted. However, repotting unnecessarily can result in shock. You’ll know your plant needs repotting if its growth is stunted or roots begin growing out the drainage holes. It’s recommended to repot your Polka Dot Begonia once a year.

When repotting, choose a pot one size up with plenty of drainage holes. Opt for a heavy stone or terracotta pot that won’t topple from the top-heavy growth of this plant. You should avoid choosing a pot that is too big as it will hold unnecessary moisture, which leads to root rot.

First, remove your plant from its existing pot and shake off the soil around its roots. Next, gently tease and loosen the roots. This is extremely important if the roots have begun to circle the base of the pot – which they’re prone to do.

Fill your chosen pot with the correct soil mix, using the old pot as a guide for where the bottom soil line should be. Once the soil is in, gently lower the plant into the pot, while spreading its roots outwards. Hold the plant in place and fill the gaps around it with soil. The top soil line should be a few inches below the rim of the pot. 

Next, gently press around the base of the plant to anchor it and remove any air pockets. Water immediately. Lastly, pop your Begonia maculata back in its original spot.

Common Problems

The Polka Dot Begonia is one of the easier houseplants in your collection to care for. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with its fair share of problems. Most of these issues are common across most houseplants, and luckily, they’re relatively easy to fix and prevent.

Yellowing Leaves

Yellowing Leaf
Typically, overwatering is to blame for yellowing leaves.

Yellowing leaves are a common problem that many houseplant parents face. There are many reasons why your Begonia maculata leaves may be losing their color, but overwatering is usually the culprit.

Only water this plant when the top layer of soil is dry to the touch to avoid yellowing leaves. By doing this, you also avoid the possibility of your Polka Dot Begonia developing root rot.

Bear in mind, however, that leaves tend to yellow when they age, and will eventually drop from the plant. This is just the plant’s natural process and is nothing to worry about.

Browning Leaves

Withering Leaf
You may be underwatering your plant if you notice dry, brown spots near the edges.

If the spotted, deep green leaves begin to brown near the edges, you may be underwatering it. It’s also a sign of too little humidity around your plant.

While having a strict watering schedule isn’t advised, you should be checking the dryness of your soil often. Water slowly and deeply whenever the top layer of soil is dry.

If your home is lacking the necessary humidity levels to keep your Begonia maculata thriving, consider investing in a humidifier.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery Mildew
The best way to prevent this fungal disease is by improving airflow.

Another common problem that most plant parents are familiar with is powdery mildew. This fungal disease enjoys high humidity environments as much as the Polka Dot Begonia, making it difficult to prevent. Luckily, there are a few ways to keep it from taking over your stunning plant.

The best ways to prevent powdery mildew are to improve airflow between plants and leaves. You can easily increase airflow by pruning leggy and unwanted stems and ensuring there is sufficient space between your houseplants.

Implementing the correct watering methods is just as easy. Always water your Polka Dot Begonia when the top layer of soil is dry. Water slowly and deeply and avoid getting water on the leaves. It’s also best to avoid misting to prevent powdery mildew.

Luckily, powdery mildew is an easy disease to deal with if it still develops on the leaves.

If you spot small white spots – unlike the silvery ones the Begonia maculata is famous for – tackle it immediately. Powdery Mildew tends to spread across leaves quickly and can result in stunted growth.

Simply clean the infected leaves and improve airflow around your plant. For severe cases, prune infected leaves and stems. However, if the disease persists, a fungicide may be necessary to eliminate it completely. 

Splotches on the Leaves 

Leaf Spot Disease
If you begin to notice brown or white splotches on your leaves, you may be dealing with Bacterial Leaf Spot or Botrytis.

The Polka Dot Begonia is also prone to other diseases, including Bacterial Leaf Spot and Botrytis. Both cause strange spots to appear across the already spotted leaves.

Botrytis

Botrytis is another fungal disease that causes the development of brown, soggy splotches across the leaves. It is often caused by poor airflow and wet leaves.

Luckily, this fungal disease is relatively easy to prevent or manage if caught early. Simply remove any plant debris around the base of your plant and prune away any infected foliage.

Bacterial Leaf Spot

Bacterial Leaf Spot, on the other hand, is caused by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris pv. begoniae and causes pimple-like spots. It’s also more difficult than Botrytis to eliminate.

You can prune away any infected leaves, but severe cases may call for uprooting and disposing of the plant.

Pests

Mealybugs on Leaf
Use neem oil to rid your beloved plant of mealybugs or whiteflies.

Mealybugs and whiteflies are common pests that affect Begonias. Both are often found on the undersides of leaves, either feeding on the sap or the leaves themselves. If left unattended, they can quickly spread to the rest of your plants, wreaking havoc as they do.

Luckily, both whiteflies and mealybugs are easy to get rid of with a simple application of Neem oil.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Begonia maculata Toxic?

Like the rest of the Begonia family, Begonia maculata is toxic if ingested. While the roots are the most toxic part of the plant and hidden away from curious paws, it’s best to keep them away from your pets.

Should You Mist Your Begonia maculata?

Misting plants is one of the many go-to tips for increasing humidity around your plants. While this can work for other plants for a short time, it’s not advised for the Begonia maculata. The striking leaves of this plant are extremely sensitive, and the extra moisture can lead to mold and other diseases.

Is Begonia maculata Rare?

The Begonia maculata may look like scarce beauty, but it’s not a rare plant. It’s readily available at most garden nurseries and centers. You’ll also be able to find this striking houseplant on various online stores, including Amazon and Etsy.

Final Thoughts

The Begonia maculata, with its dark green leaves, silver spots, and striking red undersides, spice up any space. While it may not be as popular as other houseplants, it’s certainly starting to win over many houseplant enthusiasts. This easy-going beauty is the perfect, eye-catching addition to any houseplant collection.

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