Petunia Observation

July 10th, 2009

If you’ve been hanging on my every word reading this blog for a while, you may remember that I have been seeking a couple of lost petunias for several years. This year I think I found them.

The first petunia I loved and lost was Burpee’s California Giants. I grew them from seed one year when Burpee was offering their own heirloom seeds (at least that’s what they claimed). Huge ruffle-y flamboyant flowers on large vigorous plants. I bought the seeds again a year or two later, also from Burpee, but the flowers were not like the first. Then they disappeared from their listings.

I turned next to Select Seeds. They claimed to be selling ‘Giants of California’, but that also turned out to be something quite different from the catalog description. Different than what I expected, but a serendipitous discovery of the fragrance of old-fashioned petunias. I think I wrote it better then than I could now.

After that event, I scoured the seed catalogs for old-fashioned petunias hoping to recapture that lovely fragrance, while also searching for a replacement for California Giants. In 2007, I tried Chiltern’s Giants of California. No luck. Last year, I tried Select Seeds Balcony Petunias, thinking those might have been the fragrant flowers in their Giants of California seed packet in 2006. Again, no. They were lovely satiny flowers, but not fragrant.

Then last year, I noticed that Thompson & Morgan were offering a Petunia called ‘Superbissima’. The catalog description sounded right. “The largest Petunia flowers we have ever seen, bred on from those available over 100 years ago! Robust plants produce huge 10-15cm (4-6in) wide exotic looking frilly blooms, in an attractive mixture of pinks, reds and purples, each with rich veining and attractive dark eyes. An eye-catching addition to borders or containers.” I bought the seeds last year and sowed them indoors this spring and you can see the results above. The flowers are pretty much what I remember from the old Burpee seeds although 4-6in is catalog hyperbole; they might measure that if you flatten them out first. However, the plants are short in comparison to the long-lost Burpee petunias. Well, a shorter plant is not so bad.

But how is it that these seeds just surfaced recently after being missing for several years? More internet searching. Ta da! I think I may have found the producer of these seeds – CernĂ½ Seeds in Czechoslovakia. Their web page describing Petunia hybrida grandiflora superbissima nana sounds and looks just like what I’m growing this year. The plant is said to be a tetraploid, which would account for the huge flowers. And there are a few slightly double ones, as the catalog describes. So, happiness at last on this one.

If you can manage to take your gaze off the ruffled flowers in photo above, you’ll see there’s also a smaller pinkish-purple one. That one is from the Old-Fashioned Vining Petunia seed I bought this year from Seed Savers Exchange. The first flower that opened had the fragrance I’ve been missing. Happiness again. But not every plant has that fragrance. The flower in the picture, for example, has very little.

Which brings me to an observation. All the petunias have very little fragrance during the day. The magic happens in the early evening. But some petunias have a fragrance that is just unpleasant. After I photographed the tiny vase of flowers outdoors, I placed it indoors. And last evening, I noticed an odd smell. Coming from the vase. Those big ruffled flowers thought they were outside attracting insects instead of indoors repelling me.

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