Is The Strawberry Begonia A True Begonia?
One might envision the Strawberry begonia as a begonia having blossoms that are a deep red strawberry color, or a begonia that sends out runners much in the same way the strawberry plant does. As the saying goes, "if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck". The leaves of the Strawberry begonia certainly resemble begonia leaves, and the plant does send out runners, actually called stolens, just as a strawberry plant does. The plant however is neither a strawberry nor is it a begonia. It is also called a Strawberry Geranium and a Beefsteak Geranium, but it's not a geranium either.
Names And Relatives - This little plant of many aliases is a member of the saxifrage family, having the botanical designation Saxifraga stolonifera, a saxifrage plant noted for sending out stolons, where at the end of each stolon, a new baby plant grows (similar to the strawberry plant). Other names given to this plant, which do seem to fit, are the "Mother of Thousands” and "Magic Carpet". The closest relatives of the Strawberry Begonia are the hydrangea, the astilbe, the piggy-back-plant and the mock-orange.
When its growing habits are a little different from what people tend to expect. The Strawberry Begonia is often considered a house plant, and at best a not particularly hardy perennial. In truth it is more hardy than many realize, hardy in USDA Zone 7 to 10. As an outdoor plant, it does seem to favor a slightly warm climate, but has reportedly done well in Zone 5 (northern Ohio).
The bloom color, white to a very pale pink, more closely resembles the strawberry plant blossom than the color of the strawberry itself. The blossoms are quite small, and the Strawberry Begonia is grown primarily for its attractive foliage. The leaves are a bluish -green color, variegated and with a velvety texture. Sometimes mistaken as a perennial begonia, in fact it is sometimes described as being a perennial herb, the plant is actually an evergreen, though in colder climates the leaves will often die back, but often are seen peeking through the snow at the end of the winter season. Some owners say that the plant does not bloom every year, and that some years it appears to grow more robustly than others. Most however, seem highly pleased to have this little plant in their garden.
Growing Conditions - The Strawberry Begonia grow best in filtered or partial shade, needing some protection from the sun, and from extremes of temperature. Placing the plant near the structure of the house or an outbuilding is often ideal in terms of offering it protection. Watering requirements are about average for this plant. It is important to have bare ground in the immediate vicinity of the plant if you wish it to spread. While the plant can spread rapidly, it is not regarded as being invasive, in fact can easily be crowded out by larger leafed plants, and generally won't spread where other plants are growing.
This plant can be used as a house plant of course, and often is, but it makes a nice outdoor container plan, and can make an attractive addition or filler to a hanging basket. As a ground cover it can't take heavy traffic, and is more at home in a rock garden, where it can fill in empty spaces. The most popular cultivar is "Tricolor" with its variegated leaves, green with silvery veins and a flush of red. If your local nursery doesn't recognize the name Strawberry Begonia, Strawberry Geranium, or any of the others, try Saxifraga sarmentosa, the name the plant was called for many years. Or just bring a picture.