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Background of our Begonia Program

The Begonia program started at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center with the hiring of Dr. Alfred Huo who had the opportunity to build a breeding program from the ground up in 2018. Dr. Huo acknowledged the market potential of working with begonias but was truly drawn to the morphological and genetic diversity found throughout the genus. With the help of biological scientist, Matthew Creech, the program began accumulating a germplasm collection that included varieties of wax, rex, rhizomatous, and cane begonias.

In the spring of 2019, Dr. Huo hired PhD student, Julian Ginori, to oversee the development of the begonia program with a focus on developing cultivars with enhanced abiotic stress tolerance. Coming from a background in phylogeny, climate, and forest ecology, Julian was prepared to characterize the response of wax begonia genotypes to abiotic stresses such as intense light, heat, and drought conditions. 

Since 2019, collection of new species and cultivars became a priority for the program, with the germplasm collection at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center currently housing  105 species and over 150 unique cultivar thanks to donations from germplasm centers, botanical gardens, and private begonia enthusiasts. Throughout the course of the past four years, various studies on pollen and seed storage/viability, breeding compatibility, and propagation methods have been tested on the collection to enhance our understanding of the breeding potential of the genus.

Utilizing flow cytometry, the Huo lab has been able to successfully estimate the genome size of nearly every species in the collection to allow for better breeding decisions and inform us of interspecific compatibility. Much of the breeding work is done by Matthew Creech and Julian Ginori with the following breeding goals:

  • Enhanced abiotic stress tolerance

  • Prolonged growing season

  • Uniform flowering potential

A Focus on Abiotic Stress

The impact of the changing climate on the growth and development of begonia always been at the core of our focus. With MREC being situated in the center of the state of Florida, intense sunlight and brutally hot summers limit the potential of begonia's use in the state. One of the primary goals of the breeding program is to identify traits associated with enhanced heat and light tolerance, and implement and select for them in our breeding lines. 


Through collaboration with other University of Florida professors, our program was awarded an FDACS grant to assess the effects of drought on the growth of various genotypes of wax begonia, including our own hybrids. Pictured above is the Gainesville team led by Dr. Sandra Wilson to perform a drought study. 

Heat and Light Intensity

Pictured above is graduate student, Julian Ginori, utilizing a LICOR-6800 to measure various photosynthetic parameters associated with overall plant performance. Understanding the physiological response as well as identifying key morphological changes is key to developing new enhanced cultivars. 

A Day in the Life of a Begonia Breeder

Begonia EDIS Publications

As members of a land grant university, the Huo lab works hard to ensure all of the research being conducted on begonia is available to the public through in-person trainings, video conferences, or via free university publications. If you would like to learn more about all things begonia, click on the titles below.


A Beginner's Guide to Begonia: Classification and Diversity

Julian Ginori, Heqiang Huo, Caroline Warwick

This publication focuses on the origins of the genus, Begonia, as well as breaking down the horticulture classifications in use today.


A Beginner's Guide to Begonia: Vegetative Propagation

Julian Ginori, Heqiang Huo, Zhanao Deng, and Sandra Wilson

Did you know begonia is on the short list of plant families that can be propagated via leaf cutting? This publication details all the different ways you can multiply you begonias with easy to follow steps.


A Beginner's Guide to Begonia: Seed Propagation

Julian Ginori, Heqiang Huo, Zhanao Deng, and Sandra Wilson

Are you curious about the means of propagation for your begonias? This publication covers all you need to know about propagating begonia by seed.


A Beginner's Guide to Begonia: Rex Begonia

Julian Ginori, Heqiang Huo, David Norman

According to the American Begonia Society, there are 3 different horticultural groups of begonia and 10 sub-groups. This publication tells you all you need to know about the regal foliage begonias known as Rex begonias.

Genetic Diversity of Begonia Webinar

Begonia Poster Presentations

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National Association of Plant Breeders
Ames, IA. 2022

International plant Propagators Society- Southern Region
Athens, GA. 2022

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