a milder-mannered cousin of begonia ‘bonfire’

begonia-bellfire-2I AM KEEPING MY EYE ON BEGONIA ‘BELLFIRE,’ A MILDER-MANNERED COUSIN of ‘Bonfire,’ whom we all agree is delightful, but whose hot-orange flowers can be a bit too insistent for some designs. With coral flowers and reddish-olive foliage, my two little plants of ‘Bellfire’ (above) are so far, so good. Shall we review a few really good begonias to believe in?

‘Dragon Wing Red’ (above) was my first love, with its red flowers and robust (that’s an understatement) habit, reaching shrubby proportion. Remember him? He also comes in pink, but this year, sadly, there were none to be found in my garden-center travels.

begonia bonfire 2009
Then came the B. boliviensis selection called ‘Bonfire,’ a tuberous species that appeared on the market a year or two ago, often as hanging baskets. I indulged, and then I worried I’d overdone it, but my impulse-shopping was vindicated: Not only was it a great plant, but it happily overwintered, dormant, in my basement. Now he’s a giant (above). There’s just that thing about having to like orange…

And then, this year, came ‘Bellfire’ (top and bottom photos) a supposedly more upright (to 24 inches) and genteel creature, a first cousin of ‘Bonfire’ and from the same New Zealand breeders. My plants are still so small I don’t have much to show or photograph, but as I say, all the signs are encouraging. They’re a little floppy yet due to their youth and the endless rain we’ve suffered. This is one I’d snap up at the midsummer sales and try to carry over, if you can find it, a potential investment plant like ‘Bonfire’ turned out to be.

What begonia currently has your attention, and if you’ve known it for awhile, do you have any tips to share about making it a permanent member of the family? Do tell.


  1. Rosella says:

    Ooooh! I like that “Bonfire”!!! I’ve finished my work in the garden(well, all that I am going to do today) and I think I will cruise by the big nursery to see if they have any of that. Thanks, Margaret!

  2. Deirdre says:

    I got a Begonia fuchsiodes this year. It was already huge when I bought it. Thanks for the advice about keeping it on the dry side. It’s only draw back was it’s brittle branches that break every time I moved it, but now that I’ve got it in the right place with the right set up for drainage that’s a non issue. I stuck any broken bits in dirt. It roots easily. I was told that it would winter over under my deck here in zone 8.

  3. Kathleen says:

    Okay the plant is beautiful. But I wanted to ask have you ever heard of Frogmore Stew?? there is a town called Frogmore in South Carolina. I purchased a postcard of a local store/former house and sent it to the co-workers as I loved the name (Frogmore) and have since learned there is a Frogmore Stew!! everything frogs is a okay with me as I grew up with a goldfish pond in the backyard in Miami and well yes —the frog frog signs a lullaby softly

  4. Jayne says:

    I have many begonia maculata (type). If they dont behave they hit the compost heap at the end of SUmmer, but I always several pots going. Arent they very useful to tuck into a bed that develops a “hole” or needs a little kick in August or September? And by October, if they stayed pretty and didnt grow to the size of a tree, they get to come inside for the WInter. I just came back from Longwood & Chanticleer this week end and saw a perennial begonia growing at Chanticleer. Excuse me, also, I have to go lie down – I just had another sensory overload just thinking about the sights! In 30 years of gardening, I have seen a lot, but Chanticleer brought me to my knees!!! (And not to weed!)

  5. Orchidhunter says:

    Begonia ‘Bonfire’ is just gorgeous – the hot orange colour is a total winner. ‘Bellfire’ makes a nicely subtle counterpoint to it. I’ve got a Begonia Rex type hybrid and a Begonia soli-mutata that are sharing my windowsill space at the moment. Lovely things.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Orchidhunter, a begonia devotee as well. Thanks for your visit, and news of your little collection. Now, of course, I want a soli-mutata...uh-oh. See you soon again.

  6. Johanna says:

    I have a Rieger begonia in a beautiful pinky-coral color. I love the color so much I took a blossom to the hardware store and matched paint for my front door! It looks spectacular on my gray house!

  7. Kathy says:

    Love the Bonfire, love the Dragon Wing but was never able to find it again. I hope I can winter over the Bonfire, generally begonias do well in my shady yard.

  8. Melanie says:

    I got my teeny Bellfire begonia from mail order. I have to say it is not thriving. The Bonfire begonia I started from last years plant is doing fantastic. My wintered over Dragonwing begonias are started to do their thing. Love them all.

  9. Alejandro says:

    I love “little brother Montgomery” (I think I saw it in your garden, right?) and begonia luxurians. I have many with very flashy foliage and it’s easy to feel indigestion after looking at them for too long. To me LBM has some of the best asymmetric leaves begonias have to offer. Begonia luxurians is great for a tropical effect.

  10. Julie McCay Turner says:

    Here in Bedford, Massachusetts, the weather’s been so cool and wet/damp that the huge white camellia-blossomed begonia on my front porch is rotting. I’ve tried to bring it inside during the worst drenching rains, but to no avail: every few days another stem goes mushy at soil level. Nutz and darn!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Julie. I had to bring various begonias under cover of the porch, too, weeks ago, and I swear the ones in big pots still have barely begun to dry out with this dampness. Sorry about yours. What a year. See you soon again.

  11. Trish says:

    I love the ‘Bonfire’ but yesterday, a male hummingbird, acted ticked off when he tried a couple of blooms on my hanging ‘Bonfire’. Is ‘Bonfire’ without nectar? has anyone seen hummingbirds, bees etc. nectar at this plant?

  12. L.T. TRAN says:

    I think hardy begonias have to be at the top of the list. This plant has all the great qualities – carefree, self seeded, foliage and fall blooming flower. And yes, I do think this is a deer resistant plant.

  13. Shirley Dumas says:

    I love begonias, but am not sure how to keep them going in my Zone 5 spot over the winter: let them go completely dormant? Keep them evenly moist in a dark spot? All suggestions welcome!

  14. Donna says:

    Margaret, I don’t know if you step into the big-box garden area of “The Depot”, but today-in the midwest, anyway-they had a number of ‘Dragon Red’ begonias. FYI.

  15. gwen leung says:

    What a wonderful site. My mother has Dragon Wing Red Begonias and new roots have grown into the bottom of the pot. She has purchased a large pot (8″ in diameter). I am concerned that repotting into such a large pot is an unwise idea. Please advise.

    Reading all the above comments is so heartwarming.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Gwen. I have three plants in a very large (32-inch) bowl, because last year three more that overstuffed a 24-inch pot. What about these plants of hers are you wondering–do they look weak in some way, and therefore you are concerned? These are fairly lusty growers in good weather. More details? See you soon again!

  16. Margit says:

    Margaret, I love your site. Several times now I have had a plant identification question and serendipitiously found the answer here. Currently you have answered the question I had about a showy begonia I purchase a few days ago, labeled “Red”. It is a perfect match for ‘Bonfire’. So now I just need to identify its companion, identical except for the fuchsia-pink flower color.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Margit. Glad to be of help (and I love serendipities, which I attribute to “great minds think alike”). :) So you have an as-yet unidentified begonia with fuchsia pink flowers? Or is one of them ‘Bellfire’ and all are now identified? I wasn’t clear; let me know.

  17. Margit says:

    That “reddish-olive” foliage would be nice, but my pink begonia is identical to Bonfire in ALL respects except for flower color. Put a leaf from each side-by-side, and you wouldn’t know they came from two different plants. I could send you a photo if there is a way to do that, but if not, don’t worry. I enjoy the process of discovering the identity of my mystery plants, and always learn lots more along the way.

  18. You all should really check out a “new” Begonia we started growing at our nursery in New Jersey this spring…Begonia ‘Nordic Fire’ (red) and ‘Nordic Dawn’ (hot pink). It’s an Ecke (the Poinsettia people) introduction, a tuberous type, and it makes a very full, self-branching, self-cleaning plant with big pompoms of colorful blooms all over the plant. I brought one home early this spring to “trial” it, but the cold weather forced me to keep it indoors, where it happily continued to bloom (albeit with smaller flowers than in the greenhouse) until it was safely hung outdoors in the branches of my Full Moon Japanese Maple last week. Definitely a keeper!

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