For a Stunning Houseplant, Consider the Angel Wing Begonia

dots begonia house plant leaves begonia maculata in white pot on white wooden background cozy home with houseplants close up on the polka dot patterned leaves home plant tropical potted plant
How to Grow and Care for Angel Wing BegoniasMarina Demidiuk - Getty Images

"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."

[table-of-contents] stripped

Many houseplants offer attractive foliage. When it comes to drama, though, it’s difficult to top angel wing begonias.

Angel wings—so called for the shape of foliage—are tropic perennials, though most gardeners grow them as indoor plants to decorate sunny windowsills where their height, foliage color, and long bloom season are easy to maintain once you get the basics down.

Depending on which gardening books or experts you consult, the family of begonias falls into 7 to 12 types, covering everything from trailing plants to woody shrubs.

One of those types, cane begonias, are woody, upright plants that, under the right conditions, can reach six feet in containers and twice that when planted in the ground where winters are mild.

Angel wing begonias are a striking form of the plant with long pairs of leaves shaped like folded angel's wings, with markings on them.

The first angel wings were bred from a type of cane begonia (Begonia coccinea) native to Brazil. In the late 1920s, a California plant breeder combined the traditional, bamboo-like cane begonia with a hybrid from Switzerland (B. coccinea ‘Lucerna’) and called the result "angel wing."

Nowadays there are several species of polka dot or cane begonias that are sold under the angel wing moniker, including varieties of Begonia maculata.

Nearly every aspect of these begonias commands your attention. The habit is upright, often with thick canes, and the striking foliage is crowned with clusters of delicate flowers that hang down in shades of red, orange, pink, and white. The leaves are plastered with dots, bands, or splotches of color, providing interest after the blooms fade.

beautiful angel wing begonia flowers at a botanical garden in southern california
akrassel - Getty Images

Learn what these tropical plants need at home and you’ll be rewarded with an easy-to-care-for plant with long-lasting blooms and foliage that’s striking all year long.

Why Trust Us?

As a journalist, I’ve covered lawns and gardens for nearly 20 years for national publications. Along with growing new varieties in my home garden, I routinely report stories with plant experts who are familiar with specific species to determine best practices when it comes to things like feeding, planting, and pruning.

Angel Wing Begonia Basic Info

  • Common name: Angel wing begonia, cane begonia, dragon wing begonia

  • Botanical name: Begonia coccinea, Begonia maculata

  • Plant family: Begoniaceae

  • Type of plant: Perennial, grown as a houseplant

  • Native Origin: Central and South America, Africa, and Asia

  • Sun exposure: Part shade

  • Mature size: up to 30 inches tall and 24 inches wide

  • Toxic to pets: Yes, to dogs and cats

What Is an Angel Wing Begonia?

An herbaceous perennial in tropical zones, this type of begonia is an easy-care houseplant in colder climates prized for its eye-catching variegated foliage.

In bloom, the flower clusters look fantastic as they contrast against the dark foliage. But once the flowers fade, the show's real star, the large leaves, take center stage. In warm climates, such as the recently updated USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and warmer, it can be used in window boxes or to line borders and beds. (Find your zone here.)

begonia maculata plant in white pot
Dmitry Kuznetsov - Getty Images

How to Care for an Angel Wing Begonia

Generally, angel wing begonias thrive in bright, indirect light.

“In the wintertime, it’s fine to have angel wings close to a south-facing window because it’s cooler in the house, and not as hot,” says Shelley McDonnough, vice president of the Delaware Valley branch of the American Begonia Society. An east-facing window could also work, she says, provided there isn’t a lot of draft which can rob the plants of humidity. In the summertime, east morning sun works well.

If you’re taking houseplants outdoors, they like some shade. “Park them under a covered patio or porch and they’ll hang out there and do pretty well between 45- and 50°F,” says Marvin Baker, co-president of the San Francisco branch of the American Begonia Society. If you see bleached, or red-pigmented foliage, that usually indicates too much sunlight.

The potting mix most begonias are sold in work for a while, though chances are you’ll eventually want to repot your plant to accommodate growth, drop it into a nicer container, or if the plant is falling over. “Indoors they prefer a light, aerated, and free-draining growing media,” McDonnough says. “Begonia roots are delicate, so heavier soil mixes or garden soil are not recommended.”

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil Mix</p><p></p><p>$22.79</p>

Shop Now

FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil Mix


Use store-bought mixes like Pro-Mix’s HP blend, or FoxFarm’s Ocean Forest Potting Soil, or make your own by blending one part each coco coir based planter mix, 1/8 to 1/4-inch sized orchard bark, and #2, or larger, perlite. This blend drains readily without much organic matter to hold onto moisture, which keeps the roots dry. “You don't want to have saucers under angel wing begonias, typically, because if you over water there's an inch of water in that saucer that's going to soak back into the roots,” says Baker.

Watering Angel Wing Begonias

These types of begonias like an even, consistent amount of moisture in the pot. A good rule of thumb is to use your finger to check if the soil is dry an inch or so from the surface, and water as necessary.

The foliage on angel wing begonias shows signs of stress if they are under-watered. If you notice drooping leaves that are shiny, rather than the typical matte, they require water. If you overwater, the leaves might yellow and fall off the plant.

Like many tropical houseplants, angel wing begonias do best with temperatures around 70ºF. In summer, move them away from the direct path of an air conditioner’s chilly blast, which can sometimes also rob them of moisture.

Humidity for Angel Wing Begonias

Often the trickiest element to control is humidity. “Leaf margins may brown and crisp and flowers and new leaves may drop if the appropriate humidity is not provided,” says McDonnough, noting angel wings like a relative humidity between 40 and 60 percent.

Similar to positioning them in summer, moving potted plants away from a forced air heating system helps prevent drying winds. If you suspect humidity is an issue, one trick is to group begonias with other houseplants to even out the humidity level, which is a better solution than spraying the foliage with water. “I don’t necessarily recommend spraying begonia leaves, especially in winter, because that opens the plant to potential leaf damage from bacteria or fungus,” says McDonnough.

Best Fertilizer for Angel Wing Begonias

Feed angel wing begonias during the growing season, which is usually spring through the fall.

McDonnough uses what’s often referred to as the “weakly weekly method” by using a quarter of the recommended rate of a balanced 16-16-16 fertilizer weekly for about three or four weeks, followed by a week without feeding to flush out any salt buildup in the growing media. (Here's How to Understand Fertilizer Numbers and Letters.)

Propagating Angel Wing Begonias

While begonias take well to propagating, homeowners might find it easiest to make new angel wings (and many cane-type begonias) from stem or leaf cuttings. While unnecessary—many cuttings will root in water—dipping a clean cutting into rooting hormone starts the process off a bit quicker.

In the spring, when new foliage emerges, use sterilized pruners or scissors to snip off a 3-inch-long leaf. Dip the stem end into the powered hormone then nestle it into a rooting medium—which can be either a mix of perlite and vermiculate, sphagnum or peat moss, or simply a soilless potting mix.

Top with a cover high enough to accommodate the cutting and trap the humidity. Be sure to give the new plant warmth and light. Alternatively, you can move to a rooting medium after you notice root growth in water.

home potted plant begonia angel wings snowstorm polka dot leaves decorative deciduous in interior on table of house hobbies in growing, greenhome
Ольга Симонова - Getty Images

Common Issues for Your Angel Wing Begonia Plant

Angel wing begonias face some of the same common bugs and diseases that other houseplants face.

Damage from mites can look like yellow speckling on infested leaves. Greenhouses often have mite issues which can make their way into your house. That’s why Baker often quarantines a new plant from a nursery.

“Don’t throw that new plant in with all your other plants immediately,” he says. “It’s always a good idea to wait and make sure you didn’t bring home any hitchhikers so I generally keep it separate for about a month.”

Remove any infected leaves and spray the begonia with a miticide.

Mealybugs are another common begonia pest and you can control a local infestation with a rubbing alcohol-soaked cotton swap. For larger areas, spray the begonia with soapy water.

That same mixture controls whiteflies hanging out under the leaves, though the hanging sticky tape is also effective, if unsightly.

Also see: How to Get Rid of Indoor Houseplant Bugs

Unlike the whiteflies that congregate on the underside of the leaves, powdery mildew shows up on the surface of the foliage as well as buds and stems. You’ll often see it when the temperature is cool and humidity is high, which underscores the importance of good airflow around the begonias. Use a fungicide to control powdery mildew.

Frequent Angel Wing Begonia Questions

Do angel wing begonias have flowers? It can sometimes be tricky to encourage an angel wing begonia to bloom. You can try switching to a fertilizer with a bit more phosphorus during the bloom season (late winter into early spring) to encourage more flowers. Flowering varieties of angel wing begonias usually need about six hours of sunlight to produce blooms.How big a pot can I use for my angel wing begonia? As a general rule of thumb, you only want to increase the pot size by an inch or two from the container the begonia was grown in. Angel wing begonias like to be a bit root-bound and don’t appreciate much extra legroom, though you will want to repot them if the roots fill the existing pot.How should I prune angel wing begonias? Pruning is a great way to control the overall size and shape of a begonia. Prune before the plant flowers, which is usually late spring through summer. Use sharp, clean bypass pruners that you’ve wiped with rubbing alcohol to prevent spreading disease and fungi.

Begonia maculata 'Wightii'

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Begonia maculata 'Wightii'</p><p></p><p>$28.79</p>

Shop Now

Begonia maculata 'Wightii'


Begonia maculata 'Double Dot'

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Begonia maculata 'Double Dot'</p><p></p><p>$27.80</p>

Shop Now

Begonia maculata 'Double Dot'


Little Miss Mummey Angel Wing Cane Begonia

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Little Miss Mummey Angel Wing Cane Begonia</p><p></p><p>$59.99</p>

You Might Also Like