There’s no way to avoid attention-seeking begonias

by Stan Cutler
Posted 11/12/20

Valerie, my wife, has diagnosed me with Selective Attention Disorder (SAD).  One could say that I suffer from SAD, if in fact the condition was in any way painful or debilitating. But I do not …

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There’s no way to avoid attention-seeking begonias

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Valerie, my wife, has diagnosed me with Selective Attention Disorder (SAD).  One could say that I suffer from SAD, if in fact the condition was in any way painful or debilitating. But I do not suffer. I point out that, by definition, attention is always selective, so her diagnosis is oxymoronic. “Exactly,” she says. The last time I showed symptoms was when I overlooked the rex begonia that Valerie had given the primacy of place, for my benefit, in our TV room.

I don’t pay attention to where Valerie puts the begonias because she has so many of them. In the warm weather, she takes the pots outside or buys new ones to plant in one of the flower boxes. They flourish outside so long as they are not exposed to too much direct sunlight. Inside, she hangs them in windows or on surfaces near windows. Over the years she has picked up a lot of little tables at yard sales or from curbside discards. At this point, there are well over a dozen different kinds of begonias either hanging from hooks in window frames or resting on tables in front of windows, forcing SAD people to pay attention, to lean over awkwardly and hold the hanging pots away from the windows when they want to operate the Venetian blinds. Failure to do so can result in plant brutalization, a misdemeanor.

Begonias originated in the tropic and semi-tropical regions - they will die if you leave them outside over the winter. But they can live for years if you keep the soil in their pots moist by watering once a week or so.  They are easy to propagate from cuttings. Break off a stem, stick it in water and it will soon start sending out roots. Some of Valerie’s begonias are from cuttings she was given by friends decades ago, and she has given away many cuttings to others over the years. The rex varieties, also called beefsteak begonias, are kept for their showy leaves, not so much for their flowers.

I leased an apartment in Washington during the years I worked as a contract systems engineer for NOAA. I took a hanging begonia to the apartment and pretty much ignored it except for pouring a half- glass of tap water into it once a week. When I gave up the lease after I retired, the begonia had grown to at least three times its original size. This is proof that I can pay attention. It has big, round, brown-green leaves that have red-orange undersides. It was the only living thing in that apartment except me. I liked it a lot. When I notice it, which isn’t very often, it’s like seeing an old friend.

The specimen that I failed to notice this Fall has spectacular, almost psychedelic leaves. Valerie put it on a little table near the north window, under my old friend. The little flowers don’t have petals – they have “tepals”.  The flower buds of most plants are protected by green sepals until they open. But some plants - like tulips, magnolias and begonias - have sheaths that are the same color as the flower and are indistinguishable from the inner parts.  The botanist who first noticed this in the early 19th Century invented the word tepal to describe them.  

My office, on the third floor of our Highland Avenue house, has a north window. The deep sill has two pots of some weird succulents, a small pot with a rex begonia from a cutting, and a larger hanging pot with the begonia from which the cutting broke off. Valerie put the plants there weeks ago. I just noticed them today because I had to write this column. I’ve been busy. 

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