Begonia

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Begonia is a genus in the flowering plant family Begoniaceae and is a perennial. The only other members of the family Begoniaceae are Hillebrandia, a genus with a single species in the Hawaiian Islands, and the genus Symbegonia which more recently was included in Begonia. "Begonia" is the common name as well as the generic name for all members of the genus.

The genus name, coined by Charles Plumier, a French patron of botany, honours Michel Bégon, a former governor of the French colony of Haiti. It was adopted by Linnaeus.

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Description

With over 1,500 species, Begonia is one of the ten largest angiosperm genera. The species are terrestrial (sometimes epiphytic) herbs or undershrubs and occur in subtropical and tropical moist climates, in South and Central America, Africa and southern Asia. Terrestrial species in the wild are commonly upright-stemmed, rhizomatous, or tuberous. The plants are monoecious, with unisexual male and female flowers occurring separately on the same plant, the male containing numerous stamens, the female having a large inferior ovary and two to four branched or twisted stigmas. In most species the fruit is a winged capsule containing numerous minute seeds, although baccate fruits are also known. The leaves, which are often large and variously marked or variegated, are usually asymmetric (unequal-sided).

Because of their sometimes showy flowers of white, pink, scarlet or yellow color and often attractively marked leaves, many species and innumerable hybrids and cultivars are cultivated. The genus is unusual in that species throughout the genus, even those coming from different continents, can frequently be hybridized with each other, and this has led to an enormous number of cultivars. The American Begonia Society classifies begonias into several major groups: cane-like, shrub-like, tuberous, rhizomatous, semperflorens (or wax begonias), rex, trailing-scandent, or thick-stemmed. For the most part these groups do not correspond to any formal taxonomic groupings or phylogeny and many species and hybrids have characteristics of more than one group, or fit well into none of them.

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