This article was originally on the Canterbury (New Zealand) Begonia Circle website hosted on geocities.com which is no longer available (2013) - the article is reproduced here as it is considered of value. The copyright remains with the original author/photographer.
An article written by Dennis Need of the UK, a subscriber to the Canterbury Begonia Circle magazine.
Having acquired a number of the old Multiflora varieties in the past few years, I find I have now become very interested in them and consider it a great loss that so many of them have now died out. Whilst the non-stops can create some colourful displays when used for summer bedding, I find that the multiflora create a much neater and more pleasing effect when used in this way. I suppose that it is easier for the commercial growers to sow seed each season and thus I think that the introduction of non-stops contributed to the decline of the multiflora.
I thought, until a few years ago, that the entire group of named multiflora varieties had vanished. I was given a variety at the beginning of 1996 and since then I have acquired others. It is possible, I suppose, that many more are being cultivated – and as most originated from the Continent, there could be more varieties around grown over there. When I grew them – over thirty years ago – the three most popular varieties used in summer bedding in the many public parks and gardens were:
Flamboyant was introduced in 1911 and is a dazzling cherry red. The bright yellow anthers contrast well to create a cheerful display. This is described as the nearest European hybrid to B.davisii, to which the strain owes its main characteristic of neat, short and free flowering habit.
The other varieties that I have been able to obtain, are:
Gent’s Juweeltje (Jewel of Ghent) with its semi-double flowers of a slightly deeper shade than Richard Galle. The plant is slightly shorter at 5 to 6 inches, the flowers being slightly smaller.
A nurseryman friend gave Le Madelon to me this year. He had grown it for his own pleasure over the past 30 years. It is a taller variety and reaches 8 to 10 inches. It was covered in bright pink single flowers all summer and I would be inclined to call it semi-double. The aging anthers develop into a mixture of pink and yellow petaloid. It appears to have an anemone centre and was introduced in 1919. Most bulb suppliers listed it in their catalogue some 30 to 40 years ago.
I have found descriptions of other varieties that really whet my appetite and I know that they would create some wonderful displays if they could be found again.
The doubles do not have the same form in comparison to our exhibition varieties, but their foliage makes them attractive plants.
Lafayette, one of the multiflora introduced by Victor Lemoisne in 1890, had deep fiery red, double flowers, set off by the bronze red foliage.
Flamboyant has some of these attributes, with darker mottling on the slightly rounded leaves. On the other hand, Helen Harmes shows some slight veining on its sharply pointed leaves, which, obviously, has been transmitted from B. pearcei.
The lovely shapely dark green shiny leaves of Le Madelon help to show off the delightful pink blooms.
Summer Beauty is described as a luminous shade of rose pink rosetted, satiny blooms. Tango is a clear tangerine, with pale biscuity shading towards the edges, and is a sparkling bloom with a rather small open centre. Petit Henri is only 4 inches high with small-centred flowers of clear satiny scarlet. Ami Jean Bard is a semi-double apricot yellow, tinged pink. There were many more listed some 40-50 years ago and Frederick Bedson (1st NBS President) says in his book ‘Successful Begonia Culture’, printed in 1954, that there were probably no more than 25 varieties still left in cultivation at that time.
There is also a strain of multiflora that has been re-discovered in Australia and New Zealand. They are being marketed as Burgermaster Begonias. They are taller than the aforementioned varieties, but they have the same free flowering habit. They are known by colour, i.e. Burgermaster Red, Yellow etc. I have tried to find their origin – without success. I would guess that they had their origins from the Continent.
As there was a red variety named Burgermaster Max or Mayor Max in cultivation both here and in N.Z. some years ago, it is possible that the names of the others have been lost and I suppose that it is simpler to market them as Pink Burgermaster, etc. if you have no other way of finding their original names.
I have made a number of crosses, using both standard varieties and pendulas onto multifloras with some encouraging results. Whilst the flower size has increased up to 2.5 inches, in general the flower shape is much improved with many a pleasing rose bud shape. The pendula crosses in the main have assumed a pendula habit. Some of them are erect enough to cross back to multifloras hopefully to keep both the rose bud shape and the neat compact habit of the multifloras. Some of the seedlings were very tiny, no larger than African Violets with one inch flowers. Sadly growth, with one exception, during 1998 is much taller with somewhat larger flowers. I was hoping they may have stayed tiny as they were very attractive.
I feel convinced, that if the rose bud shape could be built into the multifloras, retaining the small free flowering compact habit, they would once again become as popular or more so than they were in the past.