For plant lovers, Westchester Begonia Show and Sale is about building community — and the chance to flaunt some rare flora

By Allie Teaze

Katsu Nakagawa and the “Lady Katsu,” named in her honor

Katsu Nakagawa and the “Lady Katsu,” named in her honor

They have names like Dragon Wings, Pink Minx, Airy Fairy, Flamingo Queen, Nightmare, Glacier Bay, Midnight Magic, Northern Lights, Wild Pony, Fragrant Beauty, White Ice and Chocolate Soldier.

The begonia plant family is an expansive one, with more than 1,000  species originating in warmer climates throughout the world, from South America to Africa to East Asia.

“You can’t go to Home Depot to find some of the plants at our show,” said Martin Delgado, chairman of the Westchester Begonia Society’s 55th annual Begonia Show and Sale, happening Saturday at Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Delgado expects the event to feature at least 100 varieties of plants— most of them begonias, of course.

Some begonias have flowers, but the plants are known mostly for their eye-catching asymmetrical leaves. During the show, some Begonia Society members will work as judges, evaluating plants based on leaf shape and other aesthetic qualities to award ribbons and trophies.

For many begonia enthusiasts, the annual show and sale is part social gathering, part evangelistic mission.

“We want to encourage people to grow begonias. It has to be fun. Speaking for myself, it’s the excitement of being in the show and the camaraderie,” Delgado said. “I can’t think of anything more pleasant than meeting new people and seeing new plants.”

Each year, organizers of the begonia show choose a special honoree. This year’s honoree is Katsu Nakagawa, a longtime Westchester Begonia Society member and former president for whom the “Lady Katsu” cane-type begonia variety, cultivated by member Brad Thompson, was named.

“It’s painstaking to put beautiful flowers in the show because it takes months of caring for them,” said Nakagawa, an active cultivator.

Begonias grow under shade or dappled sunlight. They do not grow naturally in the U.S., and so it requires extra care to grow these tropical plants here.

There are about 50 members in the Westchester branch of the American Begonia Society, with 16 other branches in California and 21 more in other states.

But Saturday’s show isn’t only about begonias, with ferns and other shade-loving plants also for sale or on display.

The Gesneriad Society, based in Culver City and founded along the lines of the Begonia Society, will bring a table display of rare gesneriads, which originate from the same areas as begonias but are from a separate plant family. The Gesneriad Society has nearly 2,000 members worldwide, mainly in the U.S., with 45 branches nationwide.

“It is an opportunity for someone who has the curiosity to be amazed. Just about everything that will be at the gesneriad table is rare to the general public. That is the magic of the show,” said Gesneriad Society organizer Emmit Willis.

Willis discovered the plants by a chance discovery of the Westchester Begonia Show and Sale at what was then the Fox Hills mall.

“I wandered into the mall and was amazed by the plants. I went to a meeting. I have been going back ever since,” he said.

At both Begonia and Gesneriad meetings, members discuss plants and at the same time foster friendships, said Westchester Begonia Society member Janet Brown.

“I don’t know why the whole world doesn’t belong to the Begonia Society,” she said.

Westchester Begonia Society’s 55th annual Begonia Show and Sale is free to attend and happens from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 6323 W. 80th St., Westchester. Call (562) 310-8380 or visit begonias.org.

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