Begonia cleopatrae is one of the easiest begonias to care for and is great for beginners to the hobby. If you are looking to make your way into the world of begonias, or if you simply want to collect them all, this could be the perfect plant for you!
What is Begonia cleopatrae?
Begonia cleopatrae was discovered on Palawan Island in the Philippines. For a relatively small island, Palawan has a variety of ecosystems including tropical lowland rainforests, beach forests, montane forests, and limestone forests.
It’s likely that the large variety of ecosystems on the island are what makes Begonia cleopatrae naturally prone to adapting to its surroundings.
This begonia has stunning large leaves that are red with a lime green stripe down the middle and lime green patterns near the edges. It flowers in the winter and its small flowers are a beautiful shade of pink.
When given optimal care, this begonia species can reach up to 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide before division is needed to ensure continued health and growth.
Since Begonia cleopatrae naturally reproduce by creeping growth, it is likely that it spread through many ecosystems on the island and each ecosystem provided slightly different nutrients, light, and humidity.
Most people who keep Begonia cleopatrae, which is also known as the Maple Leaf Begonia, keep it indoors, outdoors in containers, or outdoors in hanging baskets. If you decide to keep your plant outdoors, it will thrive in most growing zones during the spring-fall but should come inside when the weather drops below 50 degrees.
How to Care for a Maple Leaf Begonia
Maple leaf begonia is a term that is used for two species of begonia, Begonia cleopatrae, and Begonia dregei. While both are beautiful and great additions to any plant collection, this care guide will be focused on Begonia cleopatrae care.
Temperature and Climate
B. cleopatrae thrives in temperatures between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit and moderate to high humidity. As a houseplant, it is relatively forgiving and can adapt to lower humidity levels, though it may not thrive without a little help.
If keeping your B. cleopatrae outside, be sure it does not get too hot or too cold as it is sensitive to temperatures over 85 degrees and below 50 degrees. While most of us don’t need to worry about drastic temperature swings inside, to be safe you may want to move your plant away from cold windows in the winter.
If your Begonia cleopatrae seems to be suffering from the low humidity in your house, there are a few things you can try to remedy the situation.
Start by moving your plant away from any vents. Hot and cold air tends to be very dry and can quickly dry out even the heartiest houseplants. Simply moving your plant away from the airflow may be enough to remedy the issue, but if not, there are a few other things you can try.
Pebble trays are a great way to increase the humidity around a particular plant. To make one pick a tray you like, it can be as ornate or as plain as you want, depending on your preference and the aesthetics of your space.
Add the pebbles to the tray and then fill it with water to just below the surface of the stones. Place your plant on top and voila, as the water evaporates, your plant will get the added humidity it craves. Keep an eye on your tray and refill it as needed.
If you have several humidity-loving houseplants in one room or grouped together, investing in a humidifier could be a great option. While this is a pricer solution, it is also the most reliable, so when dealing with pricer plants it’s probably the best way to go. Simply fill your humidifier. Set the timer and watch your plants flourish.
Create a micro rainforest
Plants are constantly releasing water into the air due to a process called transpiration. Due to this natural phenomenon, placing several plants close together can provide all of them with higher humidity levels.
Begonia cleopatrae prefers partial sunlight or filtered light but is able to adapt to full sun, or low light if acclimated slowly.
To provide your begonia with partial sun, keeping it a few feet from a well-lit window is ideal. If you live somewhere with few windows or you are keeping your plant inside an office building, a plant grow bulb could be a great option.
There are lots of options on the market for grow lights, from large fluorescent bars to simple lightbulbs that fit in everyday fixtures. You can go as big or as small as you like, but either should work well enough for B. cleopatrae.
Once you have the grow light, play with your plant to see the distance it prefers to be from the light. Keeping it too close could cause burns to occur on the plant, but keeping it too far away could cause leggy growth.
Burns and leggy growth are also symptoms of too much or too little natural light. Keeping an eye on your plant and paying attention to its growth can help you to notice problems with your plant before they cause too much damage.
Begonia cleopatrae likes to be watered roughly twice a week during the growing season and once a week during dormancy.
A regular watering schedule is an important part of begonia care. While B. cleopatrae can tolerate occasionally drying out it prefers its soil to stay damp at all times.
When you regularly water your houseplants, they will grow faster and healthier than if you water sporadically. While plants aren’t as sentient as dogs or cats, they are able to adapt to their surroundings.
This sentience means that a plant expecting to be watered regularly will grow roots and foliage equally and will utilize the water and fertilizer in the soil in a natural way. Plants that expect their soil to dry out will spend more energy growing roots in an effort to be able to utilize as much water as possible.
A plant that expects to always be wet won’t invest much energy into roots and will instead grow more foliage. This can be bad because, at some point, there won’t be enough roots to support the foliage and it will start dying back.
Overwatering can also lead to root rot, so before watering it is important to always test the soil first with your finger. If the soil is close to drying out, you are safe to water. If it is still pretty wet you should wait another day or two before checking again.
Generally speaking, most begonias do not like having their leaves wet, so when you water be sure to avoid soaking the leaves, and if you do get some wet, trying dabbing excess moisture off with a paper towel.
Begonia cleopatrae prefers a well-draining soil mix. I use 1 part Fox Farms Ocean Forest to 2 parts vermiculite or perlite. Many horticulturists, however, recommend making your own DIY soil with 1 part coco coir, orchid bark, sphagnum moss, perlite, and vermiculite. 2 parts peat moss, and 3 parts kanuma.
While this mix is ideal, I’m not a huge fan of mixing my own soil and find my plants do just as well with good potting soil and perlite to help with optimal water drainage. Choose whichever method you think will work best for you and your plants!
When it comes to fertilizing, there are two options. For the laid-back on-the-go plant parent, there are fertilizer pellets that last 6-9 months. These are best applied in the spring and with every watering, a small amount of the fertilizer will go into the soil for the plant.
If you are more of a hands-on plant enthusiast, liquid fertilizer may be the better option for you. To use liquid fertilizer, you simply choose a balanced indoor plant fertilizer from your local plant store. I usually buy a 10-10-10 formula.
Then mix the fertilizer at half strength into your watering can according to the directions on the bottle and water as you normally would. I fertilize once a month during the growing season and every 2-3 months during the winter.
Be careful you don’t over-fertilize as this can actually burn your plant’s roots and cause damage to your plant.
One of the most underestimated parts of plant care is finding the right pot and knowing when it’s time to repot.
When choosing a pot for a begonia, it’s important that your pot is the correct size for your plant. Begonias do not enjoy being root bound, so you want to choose a pot that is roughly one size larger than your plant’s current pot and make sure it has a drainage hole.
If you like the aesthetic of terra cotta, they are ideal pots for begonias. Terra cotta pots are naturally wicking and will draw water out of the soil and allow for more air to reach sensitive roots.
I recommend repotting your begonia either every or every other spring as needed. You will be able to tell when your begonia is becoming root bound as growth will become spindly and your plant may even reach its roots out of the bottom of its pot. If this happens, be sure to repot as soon as you can as your plant is suffering.
Propagating begonia cleopatrae is relatively easy and can be done through leaf cuttings or rhizome division.
To propagate via leaf cutting, you will want to choose a large healthy leaf on your plant. Use sterilized shears to cut the leaf from the plant as close to the main stem as possible. Dip the leaf’s stem into a rooting powder and then give it a day or two to heal over.
After it has had time to heal, you will want to place the stem of the leaf into the same substrate you use for the parent plant and cover the pot with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap will keep the humidity up and aid your new plant in developing new roots and leaves.
If successful, the entire process should take 4-5 weeks, at which point your new plant should have a few new leaves and be ready to join its parent on the windowsill or given away to a friend or family member.
If you prefer to use the rhizome division method of propagation, simply remove your parent plant from its pot and rinse the roots. You will find the rhizome just under the soil and you can cut off 1 to 1.5 inch pieces of the rhizome in order to create new plants.
Place the rhizome cuttings into fresh soil and cover the pot or tray with plastic wrap to keep the humidity up. This method can take slightly longer than the leaf method but is usually successful.
It is important to keep any dead or yellowing leaves off your plant, so when you see them it’s time to break out your pruning shears.
It is natural for older leaves to turn yellow and die as they have lived their life, but if you notice leaves near the top of your plant yellowing you may be doing something wrong. Go back and check your soil, your lighting, and temperature to be sure you are doing everything right before doing any more pruning.
You also may want to prune your begonia if it is getting leggy or larger than you want. To do this, simply trim off leaves to create the shape you prefer. Be careful not to do too many at once or it could stress your plant, but trimming usually strengthens plants when done in moderation.
Common Pest (and Diseases)
The most common ailments of the Begonia cleopatrae are root rot and fungus and both are caused by overwatering.
If you have noticed fungus on your begonia you need to start treatment immediately. Remove your plant from its soil and rinse its roots under lukewarm tap water. If there are any dead or dying roots, gently remove them with your hands or with shears. Then remove any affected leaves and repot.
If you believe your plant may have root rot, the same treatment is effective. Remove the plant from its pot, remove any dead roots and repot in fresh soil. As long as there are some healthy roots, your plant should be able to recover.