COMMON NAME: petunia
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
P. grandiflora-large flowers.
P. multiflora-prolific bloomer.
DESCRIPTION: Petunia flowers come in quite an array of candy-store colors including red, pink, dark blue, light blue, purple, and yellow. The flowers are single or double and can be as wide as 7 inches across. The leaves are light green and somewhat sticky. Many varieties are trailing and creeping and good to use in hanging baskets.
CULTIVATION: Heat and drought tolerant, petunias are a favorite summer bedding plant all over the country. Start seeds indoors eight to ten weeks before you set out the plants, after danger of frost has passed. Place them in full sun in average soil. The blooming period can be extended by removing the spent blossoms.
Spanish explorers first found petunias growing near the coast of Argentina in the early sixteenth century. That first species was a low-growing, trailing plant with a fragrant white flower and was not of particular beauty. The Indians called it petun, or “worthless tobacco,” and the plant was not thought to be of sufficient value to be sent back to Spain.
Three hundred years later, after the Napoleonic Wars had put Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne, French explorers were sent to Argentina. They sent plant specimens back to Europe to be identified, and botanists there confirmed the Indian name for petunia and placed it in the tobacco family. The plant was then made available to European gardeners but was essentially ignored.
In 1831 another species of petunia was found in Argentina and sent to Europe, but again it gained no popularity there. It was not until plant breeders in the United States began extensive hybridization work on petunias and produced a miraculous variety of plant forms and colors that petunias began to receive favorable attention. Now petunias are enormously popular. They are quite adaptable and will grow in each one of the fifty states. This plant’s ability to withstand drought conditions has earned the love and admiration of gardeners everywhere.