How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Angel Wing Begonias
When Texas Master Naturalist Sarah Jay isn’t documenting wildlife on the prairie, she’s tending to her favorite houseplants. Here, she discusses Angel Wing Begonias, which you can find at your nearby nursery.
Houseplants aren’t always easy to care for, but they’re not difficult, either. Angel wing begonia is emblematic of this phrase. While it’s a pretty easygoing plant, it has more requirements than your average pothos. But when you do manage to help yours thrive, it’s highly satisfying.
Compared to other begonias, angel wings are unique. They’re a hybrid of two popular varieties that have long canes with white and green leaves. Pinkish-red undersides often offset the deep green of their leaf surfaces. This is one of the many reasons there’s so much to enjoy with this plant.
If you’re wondering what goes into caring for one, we’ve got you covered. It’s not as hard as it might seem, and it’s fun too! Adding an interesting plant to your indoor collection is always an exciting and new adventure, and if you learn to propagate your own, you can provide your friends with plants, too.
Angel Wing Begonia Plant Overview
Plant Type Flowering perennial
Species aconitifolia x coccinea
Native Areas NA
Exposure Bright, indirect
Height 10 feet
Watering Requirements Consistent moisture
Pests and Diseases Mites, scale, whiteflies, nematodes, slugs/snails, leaf spot, powdery mildew, botrytis, rot
Soil Type Rich, well-draining
Soil pH Neutral, 7
The Begonia family contains thousands of species. ‘Angel Wing’ is the result of amateur breeding by Eva Kenworthy Gray of California in 1926. She crossed a Brazilian begonia (Begonia aconitifolia) with a privately-owned B. coccinea ‘Lucerna.’ The result was a cane begonia with stunning features.
In the Begonia genus, there are 2000 species. These are generally parented by two clades of begonia species, either yellow African begonias or Asian begonias. Within these two clades is a ton of variation. Along with African violets, begonias are one of the easiest-to-breed plants. This has led to plenty of new cultivars.
Because angel wings are a hybrid of two species, it does not have a specific native habitat. However, the native habitat of B. aconitifolia sits along streamlines and the rainforest floor of Brazil. The soil there is rich and moist year-round.
When caring for your begonia, the best way is to mimic this natural habitat as much as possible. This sets your begonia up for success!
The large, erect stems of angel wings can grow up to 10 feet tall and require pruning to remain compact. The leaves are large, waxy, and covered in cream polka dots or splotches. In late winter, through fall, intermittent clusters of red, peach, orange, pink, or white flowers bloom under large leaves.
The leaves are heart-shaped and look like the wings of angels or birds, depending on who you ask. They are arranged alternately on long canes. These plants love exceptionally humid areas, making them a great choice for your bathroom.
The roots of angel wings are rhizomatic. Planted in the ground, they may creep and take over in ideal conditions. This is what they would do on forest floors and what begonias tend to do in the wild.
Where to Buy
This is a popular cultivar of begonia that is available to purchase in plenty of places. You can head to your nearest big box store’s garden center or your favorite houseplant nursery. You can also purchase one online.
If you learn to propagate one, you can avoid spending money to bring one home!
Most angel wing gardeners will care for their plants in containers. But those in zones 10 or 11 can plant theirs in the ground.
No matter which method you choose, always ensure your plant is in an area with bright but indirect light. In either setting, you want the soil to be packed lightly around the root ball to prevent water-logging.
If you’d like to up-pot an angel-winged begonia you brought home from the garden center, find a pot slightly larger than the one it’s currently in. Remove the plant from the original planter. Then, plant the root ball into the new container with the appropriate well-draining, rich soil mix.
How to Grow
When you bring your cane begonia home and potted or planted it in its new home, you’re halfway to growing one of the most interesting plants out there. Here are the things you need to help your begonia live its best life.
Bright, indirect light is what you need to keep angel wings growing. In a home, an area offset from an east or west-facing window is perfect. If you only have south-facing windows, provide a little bit of shading from a sheer curtain or other taller plants.
Outdoors, place the plant underneath large plants and trees, where the leaves can take in indirect sunlight. As the sun’s rays refract through other leaves, they make the UV radiation less intense. Keep those leaf patterns stark and distinct and the canes upright with the correct light levels.
While cane begonias live in areas where soil moisture is consistent all year, letting the soil dry out between waterings is best. Wait until the top inch of soil dries out, then water the surface until the water pours out of the drainage holes in your container. Water gently to keep the soil in place.
Self-watering pots and watering below the plant may seem like an easy fix or even a better method for watering, but these plants do not appreciate sitting in water. That being said, outdoor plants should receive enough water to keep the top inch of soil moist, but not more than that.
The Chicago Botanic Garden recommends planting container angel wings in clay pots due to their ability to wick moisture away from the soil. Plastic pots are okay, but they hold moisture much longer. Therefore, you’ll water less if yours is in plastic.
Go for something unglazed rather than glazed. The same goes for ceramic. Glazed planters chip easily and don’t have the porosity that a terra cotta pot does.
In Brazil, where begonias live, the rainforest floor is their habitat. This area is full of highly rich soil that develops as larger plants and trees drop leaves and decay. What results is a substrate full of nutrients that is also well-draining.
If you plant your begonia in the ground, you should amend heavier soils with some grit to break them up and make them less clay-like. Agricultural sand or vermiculite can assist with this. Amend regular potting soil with grit, too, especially if it’s full of peat or coco coir, as these materials retain moisture.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants are highly specialized and, therefore, have a small range of temperatures that promote ideal growth. Keep them in a place with daytime temperatures that range from 70° to 75°F (21° to 24°C) and nighttime temperatures no lower than 60°F (15°C).
Humidity is important for angel wings, and in the begonia’s natural habitat, humidity generally reaches 75%. You can have happy angel wings without it, but placing your indoor plant in an area like your shower or washroom may help.
Plant humidifiers in a closed room can assist in this regard. A pebble tray is also a good way to increase humidity. Just place one near your plant. Try not to mist this begonia, as the leaves are sensitive to excessive moisture and can develop diseases in response.
Your angel wings need lots of nutrients to thrive. During spring and summer growing seasons, feed yours with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer every other week. Chances are this will coincide with your watering schedule.
In fall and winter, cut back on fertilizing, applying the same type of plant food every other month. Slow-release fertilizers can be applied in the growing season every three months and not at all outside of the growing season.
By feeding the plant and giving it enough light, you’ll ensure it flowers in fall and winter and develops enough leaves to keep it happy and healthy.
Pruning is also key for angel wings. Otherwise, they grow tall and leggy. Young plants should be tip-pruned once they reach six inches tall. This helps them develop lateral shoots and grow into more of a bush rather than a cane. It will take a few weeks, but doing this prevents the need for staking.
As these lateral shoots emerge, most will remain bushy. If you notice any growing too tall, cut them out. However, it’s perfectly okay to have lanky angel-wing begonias. Give them some support if you choose this path, though.
You need to repot your plant whenever it starts to outgrow its pot. Some root-binding is comfortable for cane begonias, but too much makes it so they can’t take up water and nutrients. If you notice yours is not holding nutrients or the pot is falling over, it’s a good time to repot.
The best thing to do is to repot on an annual schedule, completing the task in spring or summer when the plant is growing more vigorously. This makes it easier for you to remember and keeps your begonia flourishing.
There are two ways to propagate your begonia: through stem cuttings and via division. Both should be carried out as the plant is in active growth in spring and summer. In dormancy, cuttings from the plant don’t take root as easily.
Set yourself up for success by timing your propagation correctly.
As you prune your begonia to keep it bushy or to eliminate leggier parts, keep some of the stems for making new plants. You may notice that your plant loses steam in about five or six years. This is the average lifespan of this kind of begonia, and taking stem cuttings to make more ensures you always have one nearby.
Select a stem that has at least three to four inches of length and at least two to three sets of leaves. Remove the lower sets of leaves, and dip the tip in the rooting hormone. Then, place your cuttings in a starter pot filled with vermiculite.
Cover the pot with plastic wrap or covering to keep the humidity higher, supporting it on stakes to keep the plastic off the foliage. In a few weeks, they’ll take root, and you can repot them. You can also root your cuttings in water and transition them to the soil when the roots are substantial. Remember to change the water daily if you choose this route.
Dividing Angel Wings
As you repot this begonia, separate established plants into multiple by cutting the rhizomes. Dust the soil off the parent plant, and look for nodes between rhizomatic roots where canes are growing.
Use sterile scissors, pruners, or snips to cut at a nodal point, ensuring roots grow around the node. Then, plant each section into a new pot slightly larger than the newly cut root ball. Give these plants enough water and humidity, and you’ll have even more lovely angel wings to appreciate.
Because this cultivar was bred to be a houseplant, the most common issues people encounter involve the conditions inside their home. The same guidelines apply to outdoor situations.
Too much light scorches the leaves of angel wings, giving them a brown edge that is crispy and dry. Often, this occurs when the plant is placed in a south-facing window or direct sunlight. Instead, give it bright, indirect light filtered through other plants or sheer curtains and obstructions.
Too much water will stress your begonia and put it in conditions that lead to various bacterial and fungal diseases. Only water when the top inch of soil is dry. Do not water as often in winter. One sign of too much watering is browning leaves and mushy stems. If possible, cut these off and replant your begonia in dry media. Then water again in a few days.
On the flip side, too little water causes crispy brown leaves. Try to establish a schedule for the growing season and the dormant season. Stick to that, and you should be just fine. Remove any dead leaves that result from infrequent watering.
If you don’t keep a regular fertilizing schedule, you may notice a lack of vitality in your plant. Leaves may droop or yellow, and canes may become long and leggier.
Remember to use liquid fertilizers every other week in the growing season and slow-release ones every three months. Cut back in dormancy.
Even though this plant was developed just under 100 years ago, there are lots of very interesting cultivars to choose from. Each one is perfect in the home garden, and you may even find some at your local garden center.
This variety is slightly smaller than its parent cultivar, topping out at 4 feet. It has less of a tendency to grow tall canes and looks lovely in hanging planters and small pots. Its flowers are a bright salmon color, and the dark green leaf surfaces are sometimes covered with multiple-sized spots.
This one is named after breeder Charles Jaros, a former president of the Buxton branch of the American Begonia Society. He came from a long line of plant enthusiasts and breeders. This particular begonia has slightly lobed and serrated leaves with light pink blooms.
Instead of spots on the upper leaf surface, white areas appear between the veins. This gives the leaves a somewhat silvery appearance.
If the starkness of ‘Charles Jaros’ begonia is too much for you, the more delicate ‘Esther Albertine,’ with its touches of white dots, might tickle your fancy more. In its flowering season, small light rose-colored blooms appear. These are offset by the lighter green leaf color with its red edging.
A seedling from ‘Esther Albertine’ was bred by Annette Boree of New York to become the popular cultivar, ‘Jim Wyrtzen.’ This begonia has deep green to orangish waxy leaves with spare white spots. The substantial pink blooms are lovely amidst this plant’s deep red undersides.
This cultivar lacks the deep red underleaf and edges that others have. However, it makes up for the lack of color with an almost excessive amount of white spots that don the leaves’ surfaces. It was developed in 1991 and also displays cute clusters of pinkish flowers.
If you like the look of ‘Charles Jaros,’ but can’t find one, check out ‘Silver Wings’. The larger-than-usual pointy leaves have white splotches rather than spots. Brownish-red undersides of the leaves shield blooms that are so light pink, they’re almost white.
With ‘Looking Glass,’ you get no spots and no splotches! You get basically white leaves with deep green venation. Among the white, older leaves are younger, bright red ones that eventually turn the same color.
This is a unique variety among other angel-winged begonias. Little peeks of light pink blooms make it even more enticing!
Now, let’s discuss some of the basic critters you’ll run into when you garden this plant. All of these are your usual suspects, and they’re pretty easy to handle, especially if you act quickly.
Begonia mites and broad mites are both fond of chewing on your begonia leaves. Both aren’t easy to see, but the evidence of their presence is. Look for yellow stippling on leaf surfaces or curled edges. You can try to eliminate them by wiping the plant down with a damp cloth and planting it in new soil.
Where necessary, use miticides or insecticidal soap as a next resort. Reapply these every seven to ten days until all the mites are gone. Taking care of mites is especially important in large indoor growing operations.
Hard and soft scale, as well as everyone’s favorite, mealybugs, are some of the most common pests of begonias. These look like clusters of lesions on plant stems and are actually insects that don’t move quickly enough for you to notice them.
Start by popping them off the plant into soapy water with an alcohol-soaked Q-tip. Wipe down the plant with a damp cloth. Then, use insecticidal soap to prevent any further infestations. Neem oil will control these as well.
You’ve got whiteflies if you bump your plant and notice little white bugs flying about. Generally, they’re not too much of a nuisance and are easily controlled by blasting your plant with water to knock any eggs free, then shooing the whiteflies away from your plants. If your initial treatments don’t completely work, follow up with some neem oil or insecticidal soap.
We’re talking about root-knot nematodes and leaf nematodes when it comes to angel wing begonia. Keep watch for stunted growth and reddish-brown lesions on your leaves. These are both signs that either root-knot nematodes or leaf nematodes are present.
There’s not much of a treatment for either, so prevention is key. Remove any damaged leaves from the base of your begonia. Avoid overhead watering, and sterilize pots between plantings. These methods should reduce your chances of nematode infection.
Slugs and Snails
Outdoor plants can become slug and snail snacks, especially in warm, wet weather. You can wait until nighttime and hand-pick them off, or you can use different traps and baits to kill them. Use beer traps placed near your plants, or apply an organic snail and slug bait to take care of them.
Just as the pests that like angel wings are common ones, so are the diseases that affect these plants. Most of them are preventable through good garden hygiene and consistent care. Note that any sprays you use should be done in a well-ventilated area or outdoors.
Bacteria can infect the leaves of your angel wings and cause water-soaked areas that have yellow halos. If you see one of these on a leaf, remove the leaf immediately and inspect the plant. Anti-bacterial sprays applied seven to ten days apart can treat the issue.
But prevent it altogether by using only sterile media and garden tools and avoiding bringing infected plants into your collection.
Are there cloudy spots on the upper surfaces of your begonia’s leaves? This is likely powdery mildew. This disease usually occurs when temperatures are cool and the air is moist. It’s a common indoor disease in that regard.
Remove the infected leaves and attempt to control the situation by providing better air circulation between stems. Keep those plants pruned effectively, and the problem usually passes. Adjust humidity conditions as needed, and use a copper fungicide if the problem persists.
If the leaves on your plant are gray and crinkly or curly, you might be tangling with botrytis. There’s no cure for this one, but you can control it like you treat powdery mildew infections. Keep the practice of pruning for air circulation going.
Root And Crown Rot
Root and crown rot are problems that begonias deal with when they don’t have the right planting medium or they are overwatered. Prevent both by ensuring your begonia has a good foundation to begin with.
If you notice wilting and mushy leaves or stems, remove them and repot your plant in a fresh pot with sterile media. Do not water until a couple of weeks have passed. While it’s possible your begonia won’t recover, it certainly can!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are angel wing begonia flowers edible?
A: Interestingly, many of the begonias that don’t grow tuberous roots have edible parts. The flowers are included! However, don’t consume any part of the plant before verifying that your specific variety is properly identified and edible via a credible source. Consult your doctor immediately if you experience any unusual symptoms.
Q: Are angel wing begonia poisonous to dogs and cats?
A: Although the above-ground parts are sometimes considered edible for humans, dogs and cats can experience nausea, vomiting, and even worse symptoms, especially when they consume the roots. Keep these out of reach of your furry family members.
Q: Are angel wing begonias perennial?
A: Yes! These are tropical perennial plants that grow for up to five or six years.
Q: Are angel wing begonias tuberous?
A: No. Angel wing begonias have rhizomatic roots rather than tuberous ones like other begonias do.
Q: Are angel wing begonias rare?
A: No. This insanely popular houseplant can be found at nearby nurseries, garden centers, and big box stores all over North America.
This plant is so cool; why wouldn’t you want to care for one at home? With several new cultivars to choose from, you’ll certainly find one that suits you. And because these are a medium maintenance plant, they are a great teacher for those who want to get into houseplants.