Begonia Conservation, Species Identification and Begoniaceae Keys

Click here to contact SoundEagleSoundEagle says: This is an excerpt reproduced from the journal of the American Begonia Society, The Begonian, as recommended by Mr Peter Henderson to SoundEagle.

Conservation Chairman, ABS

It’s time for a change.

There have been three recent events, that combined, will force a readjustment in one element of the ongoing “Conservation Program”. Let me explain.

First, I have recently reviewed the “traffic” on the Astro web site and find the consolidated listings of begonia pictures are the most popular pages for web site visitors. For those who have followed the evolution of this web site, they realize that since inception, about three years ago, the Astro web site has grown in size from about 10 pages and 50 pictures, to its present size of over 175 pages and over 1800 pictures. This information covers two national conventions, two South West Region (SWR) conventions, several ABS Board meetings, numerous branch meetings, several private begonia collections, a review of the Uxxx species, and pictures from Scott Hoover’s explorations in Indonesia. Throughout this time, the web site has featured each event, as it happened, along with numerous pictures of plants and people. Finally, the best pictures of individual plants were consolidated into three files, featuring cultivars, species, and the Uxxx species. These are the popular ones, and I surmise that people are viewing these collections of photographs to help identify their plants.

Second, for the past six months I have been developing species description information, in preparation for the “Begonia Description and Use of the Begoniaceae Keys” workshop at the August ’03 SWR meeting. This work includes a large number of botanical “characteristic terms” which describe begonia plants, created a glossary of over 500 descriptive terms that are needed to use the keys. All of this information is in the Workbook to be published in conjunction with the workshop. Now, having this information in one place, encourages me to put it to use describing as many species as possible.

Third, I have recently been unpleasantly surprised with the number of species plants that I have seen, or have bought into my collection, that are misnamed. Many times the names are only misspelled, but sometimes they are not even close, obviously describing an entirely different variety. It seems that many members have no reliable means of checking the identification of plants, so misidentifications are just passed along to the next member receiving a plant or cutting.

All of the above leads me to the conclusion that we need an easier way to identify species plants and we need to disseminate this information as broadly as possible. To that end, I am going to revise some of the Astro web site to emphasize species identification. The major tool will still be color photographs of plants, but added attention will be given to individual leaves and to inflorescence and flowers. Further, a section will be devoted to describing the plant parts in botanical terms, following the examples presented in the “Begonia Description … ” workbook. Because of space limitations, some older web pages will be eliminated to make room for the new work.

This approach has its problems, in that we must be certain of an identification before putting it on the web site as the “real McCoy”. This last consideration will undoubtedly make the task more difficult, more time consuming, and may require the help of numerous members. We will start with varieties whose identify is obvious, like B. rajah, and work our way toward the more difficult species like B. sericoneura, with its numerous synonyms. The concept of synonyms itself adds another important variable to the equation, which must be addressed.

Finally, this project will require considerable time to make real progress. The time frame is obviously dictated by the calendar because of plant blooming. The species to be covered in this activity will come from past and future shows, from private collections, and from the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens. I invite you to visit the Astro web site over the next year or so to view the transformation, as it takes place.

The web address is