Petunias – a popular family

Calibrachoa, Calitunia, Littletunia, Million Bells, Petitunia, Supertunia, Surfinia, Tiny Tunia … so many names that are now part of gardeners’ vocabulary. These plants are among our century’s most popular annuals, but when we try to classify their universe, we are baffled.

In fact, they are all petunias or they were used to crossbreed the plant. Many buy the famous ‘Million Bells’ series which became so famous, thinking that they are not petunias.

The Petunia genus belongs to the Solanaceae family such as the tomato, potato, pepper and … tobacco. Moreover, the etymology of the Petunia genus comes from the word Petun meaning tobacco. The term derives from the dialect of some South American natives. There are approximately forty species. The petunias that we grow today come from very complex hybridizations, which began around the 1830s.

Their classification

A first categorization distinguishes petunias stemming from seedlings and cuttings. Petunias can also be classified into five major groups:

  • Petunias with large single or double flowers (grandiflora): large flowers, spectacular flowering and bushy vegetation.
  • Petunias with several single or double flowers (multiflora): a lush flowering and medium-sized flowers.
  • Flowering petunias (floribunda): greater resistance to diseases and many flowers.
  • Petunias with miniature flowers (milliflora): small flowers in abundance and compact vegetation.
  • Falling petunias with single or double flowers: long drooping stems and large flowers.

Petunias with large flowers (grandiflora)

Big-flowered petunias were developed in the early 1950s. The flowers in this group can range from 9 to 12 cm (3 to 5 inches) in diameter. The petals sometimes look like lace or are creped at the edges. The flowers of double-flowered cultivars look like big carnation flowers. Today, we are trying to develop more compact plants. They are mostly used in containers. The flowers unfortunately deteriorate during a windy rain.

The following series are part of this group: AlladinTM, BravoTM, CarnivalTM, DaddyTM, FalconTM, HulahoopTM, MirageTM, PicoteeTM, PirouetteTM, StormTM, SupercascadeTM, SupermagicTM, UltraTM.

Petunias with many flowers (multiflora)

These petunias, developed in the late 1940s, were introduced in 1953. The flowers are smaller than those of large-flowered petunias, measuring only 4 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) in diameter. However, they are more numerous and generally withstand poor weather conditions better than large-flowered petunias. The plant forms a more compact branching than the latter. A very diverse color palette is available.

The following series are part of this group: CarpetTM, HorizonTM, JoyTM, MerlinTM, PrimetimeTM, SymphonyTM.

The flowering petunias (floribunda)

More recently, this group of petunias that comes from a hybridization between the petunias grandiflora and multiflora, has a plant shape and flowers that lie between these two. The distinction is so weak when comparing the plants to the parents, that many question the formation of this group.

The following series are part of this group: CelebrityTM, MadnessTM, SonjaTM.

Petunias with miniature flowers (milliflora)

Obtained from an unexpected genetic mutation of the petunia hybrid (Petunia hybrida), petunias belonging to this group represent a really interesting miniaturization of the petunia. The flowering of these mini-petunias is early. They are ideal for small hanging baskets, strawberry pots or any place where traditional petunias are too bulky.

The FantasyTM series is part of this group.

The falling petunias

It was the Japanese company Suntory who accidentally obtained the first forms of this group in 1989. These petunias, originally called ‘Surfinia’, form sturdy and vigorous plants that crawl on the ground. They tolerate the heat and react better to showers than the petunias of the grandiflora and multiflora groups. The early marketing of this group has been so successful that we commonly call the falling petunias, surfinias.

The WaveTM Series obtained through seedlings and the CascadiaTM, Opera SupremeTM, PetituniaTM, SupertiniaTM, SurfiniaTM and SweetSunshineTM vegetatively reproduced (through cuttings) are part of this popular group.

Cultivation and maintenance

Petunias can be used in the ground or in containers. Of course, the falling petunias are better for suspensions, planters or dressing a wall.

The following treatments help to obtain and keep healthy plants:

  • Never buy plants that have symptoms such as marbled leaves or deformed leaves;
  • Watering should be well controlled, as excessive watering over a long period of time can cause root rot;
  • Petunias, especially those that are vegetatively propagated, are susceptible to pathogenic fungi, such as several members of the Solanaceae family;
  • The use of clean or new pots and a planting substrate that has never been used greatly reduces the risk of contamination;
  • Falling petunias are usually very demanding in terms of fertilization;
  • In traditional petunias, wilted flowers should be removed regularly while some new cultivars no longer require this sustained attention.

Related genera

The Calibrachoa ‘Callie Scarlet Red’ from the Fischer firm

Long considered petunias, calibrachoas today form a specific genre. The plant resembles a petunia with small flowers and fine leaves. It is well branched and has a very floriferous character. Again, it is the Japanese company Suntory which developed the first calibrachoas hybrids. The cultivar ‘Callie Scarlet Red’ gives scarlet-orange flowers, an unusual color among calibrachoas.

The Calutinia ‘Purple’ from the Danzinger firm «Dan» Flower Farm

The Calutinia is a cross between petunia and calibrachoa. This development is the result of unprecedented expertise, in the botanical knowledge of these plants and hybridization technology. An elite team worked on the project. The calutinia thus presents the luxuriant foliage of the petunias and the delicacy of the calibrachoas flower. The cultivar ‘Purple’ gives purple-pink flowers. The plant is 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 inches) tall.

Original petunias

Petunias from the Tiny TuniaTM series from Bodger Botanicals

These petunias produce very small flowers the size of a quarter. Despite this small size, the plant is so floriferous that it is completely covered with flowers. Cultivars in this series have a creeping form. ‘Tiny Tunia Rose’ therefore gives a multitude of pink flowers.

Petunias from the SweetSunshineTM series from Selecta

The petunias of the new SweetSunshineTM series, future stars, give small double flowers that have a good tolerance to bad weather. As such, the cultivars ‘SweetSunshine Dark Violet’, ‘SweetSunshine White’ and ‘SweetSunshine Pink’ are good choices.

Petunias from the ‘Supertunia Double Peppermint’ series from Proven Winners

This hybrid petunia, a selection of Proven Winners, produces two-tone semi-double flowers tinged with pink and white. A plant reaches 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in.) In height and 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in.) in spreading.

Petunias from the PetituniaTM series from the Danzinger “Dan” Flower Farm

The floriferous character of the PetituniaTM series plants is truly surprising. These drooping petunias, which branch very well, reach 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 inches) high. Their flowering is early. As the flowers fall when the flowers are wilted, grooming this plant is easy. The cultivar ‘Petitunia Happy Dream’ has a pink flower veined with purple. The plant is vigorous.