Begonias have amazing flowers. Vibrant colours and so many petals; each one is a little masterpiece!
But have you noticed that some flowers are a little less showy than others? Some are packed full of petals but others are a lot simpler, with maybe four petals?
This is because begonias have some flowers that are male and some flowers that are female., these are called “imperfect” flowers. Flowers with both male and female parts (pistils and stamens) are called “perfect” flowers (they have all the tools to reproduce within the same flower). Other plants with imperfect flowers are zucchini, cucumbers, and corn. Plants with perfect flowers include roses, daisies, petunias and tomatoes.
Just as the birds with the most colourful plumage are the males, the showiest begonia flowers are the males, and the ones with fewer petals are the females:
The goal of a begonia plant (and every other plant) is to reproduce itself. It lives to set seed. The gardener’s goal for a begonia plant is to have big, beautiful flowers. Just like with deadheading spent blooms, we don’t want the plant to waste energy on creating seeds. If we want to save this type of begonia for next year, we’ll usually do it by lifting and storing the tuberous root structure, not by growing it from seed.
If we remove the female flowers the plant’s energy is diverted to the male flowers, and to creating more flowers—it keeps trying to reproduce. So by snipping off the female flowers you’ll not only have just the big, showy blooms, you’ll have more of them!
Begonias grow with two female flowers growing behind every male flower. In the following picture you can see that there is a little green triangular growth behind the female flower on the right’s petals, but none behind the male flower. This triangle contains the ovary.
Just reach in and break or pinch off the female buds as soon as you see them forming:
If you don’t pinch off the female flower, it will often become fertilized, and then that little triangular patch will swell as seeds form.
This is a missed opportunity. I should have picked off the female flowers earlier so I could enjoy more big begonia blooms.
Tip: It’s easier on the gardener’s heart to pick off the female flowers before they open. They are quite pretty in their own way, and therefore more difficult to snip off, once they open.