Petunias are one of the most popular flowering garden plants. They belong to the Solanaceae genus that also includes tomatoes, tobacco, gooseberries, potatoes and chili peppers. They are an annual plant.
History of the petunia
The first petunias were sent from South America to Paris in 1823. The first ones imported were the white flowered Petunia axillaris, and the purple flowered Petunia violacea. At that time, the flowers were smaller than the petunias we know today, but flower gardeners took a fancy to them in Germany and England, crossbreeding them for larger blossoms with more color variations. These are now called the Petunia x hybrida. By 1900, double flowered varieties appeared. The Japanese began breeding double petunias and selling them in 1934 through the Sakata Seed Corporation. The bi-color variety of purple and white was first introduced as a seed in 1939, and in the 1990s, as a hybrid. Petunia research ground to a halt during World War II, then the search for double petunias intensified. Floribundas were introduced in 1983 and millifloras in 1996.
Are petunias edible?
Many members of the solanaceae genus are edible but some are poisonous, for instance the deadly nightshades. According to the National Capital Poison Center, petunias are not poisonous. The edible petunias are from the Petunia x hybrida. The grandiflora and multiflora varieties are both edible. The flowers have a mild taste and are often used in salads or on top of food as a garnish. They can also be used to decorate cheese, or to wrap other food.
Hundreds of types of petunias exist, grouped into four categories depending on their flower size or way they grow. There are grandiflora petunias, multiflora, milliflora, and groundcover types. The grandiflora has the largest flowers, which can be as large as three or four inches across. These are the most popular types. Multifloras have smaller and more quantity of flowers than the grandiflora. The millifloras are a smaller plant, with one to one and a half inch flowers and are commonly used to edge a garden. The groundcover variety spreads quickly, but only grows to a six-inch height. They can be used for a groundcover, trailing down a wall or in hanging baskets. They are also used in flower boxes where they can grow to two or three feet in length during one growing season. Petunias need sunlight and grow best with good drainage. The enjoy peat moss or compost, but don't need very rich soil to grow well. Heat resistant, they can grow in the hottest of climates and not require much water, however the groundcover types prefer more water. The modern plants are very disease resistant but can have issues with fungus or white flies and flea beetles.