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80-Year-Old Begonia In Fruitland Still Flowering

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(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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By BRICE STUMP

The Daily Times of Salisbury

FRUITLAND, Md. (AP) — Never mind that her limbs are lanky in one place, beefy in others, or that she’s 80-plus years old — there’s still plenty of life in the old girl.

She’s even producing offspring.

“She,” is a red flowering, angel-wing begonia.

Not just any plain-Jane begonia, but one that is probably the oldest on the Shore.

“I got this from my late mother-in-law and she originally got it from the Nilsonn’s Flower Shop in Pleasentville, N.Y. She got it from them and it had been around there for some time before she bought it, and they are still in business,” said Edna Frances Havey of Meadowbridge Greenhouses.

“I inherited it from my mother-in-law. When she and her son, Perry, my husband, moved here from Hastings on the Hudson, she brought it with her. It would a good-size begonia then, and that was in 1958,” Havey explained. “They got into the chicken business here, then into growing flowers.”

For years it was a houseplant, then, when the Havey family opened a greenhouse plant business in 1980, it was moved to a new location in the greenhouse. It fared well enough, but then it was moved several times around the buildings before it found an ideal spot.

“It just about died three times, but we managed to bring it back to life,” she said. “We had it in different places and it

didn’t do very well. Now, it loves this one spot and it does wonderful. I don’t know why, but it has been there for years and years.”

It gets the same care it always has, requiring hand feeding and watering. Despite its somewhat aged look, it bears beautiful, full heads of cascading red blossoms.

Through all the seasons and frequent risk of being frozen if the heat went off in winter, it has stayed the course.

Its permanent location is almost in a corner of a greenhouse, but its sheer bulk, 3 feet in diameter and 4-feet-plus height, make it an obstacle for those rounding the corner.

When slipping by the plant one day, assistant Andrea Gurney broke off the tip of a branch and decided to take cuttings from it.

The small sections of leaves and stem were trimmed of excess foliage and dipped in a root producing hormone and potted.

Sure enough, from the winter cuttings came lush, healthy, bushy potted begonias within 90 days. Now Havey and Gurney routinely take cuttings from the branch tips of the 80-year-old former houseplant.

“I don’t know why we never took cuttings from it until recently, but now we do and we rely on it for all our new potted

begonias,” Havey said. “I never said it out loud, but many a time I wondered, `What’s that old plant doing sitting by the door,’ ” Gurney said. “So one day, I finally asked Mrs. Havey what the story was on the begonia.”

What got her attention is that the begonia, while so endearing, is a messy guest.

“It drops a lot of leaves and blossoms, great for the outdoor porch, but not so good as a houseplant,” Gurney said.

After years of cutting it back, squeezing past it and occasionally accidentally snapping off branches, the living antique

has become the golden begonia goose.

“We’ve been taking cuttings off of it like crazy,” Havey said.

Year after year, it seems like there’s always someone coming to the shop who wants to buy the antique plant.

“I have to tell them, it’s not for sale,” Havey said. “It’s part of the family.”

Now the old plant is earning its keep by producing, well, babies.

“I don’t mind selling the new plants from the cuttings, but you know I can’t sell the mother plant,” she said.

Like any mother, the begonia blends in well with the surrounding landscape of blooming petunias, marigolds, impatience, hyacinth beans, celosia and straw flowers. It is quite at home in a living rainbow of color. Only the large, thriving patio tomato plants, dripping with small green tomatoes, compete for the gee-whiz factor when customers browse the inventory.

But unlike the tomatoes that grow with the support of cages or stakes, the senior begonia still doesn’t have to rely on wooden, plastic or metal crutches for support.

So how much longer can the begonia hang on?

“I suspect it can last at least another 80 years,” Havey said. “We repot it every once in a while. It takes two of us to lift it.

Even though it has become root-bound, we just set it into a bigger pot, add more soil and let it alone.”

“I didn’t want to mess with the roots, I was afraid I’d kill it,” Gurney said.

So, back in its old location, the plant is quite content.

“I can’t explain it; it does its best right where it is. It’s funny how plants have a favorite spot where they do their best,”

Havey said.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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