A plant that I “rediscovered” in the last few years for its wonderful attributes is the old-fashioned Petunia. I prefer plants having the wonderful familiar Petunia fragrance because it evokes memories of my grandmother and her gardens. Petunia is both the genus and common name for a host of colorful species that are in the Solanaceae family along with other members such as tomato, potato, deadly nightshades, chili pepper and even tobacco.

While preferring the old fashioned fragrant Petunias, I also grow some of the interesting newer hybrids even thought they might lack fragrance. In doing so, I have had some fun in seeing just what happens when those hybrid Petunias go to seed and produce a second generation of flowering plants. To understand what is behind the fun, a little botany is helpful. A hybrid plant is a cross between two parent plant varieties in order to capture valued attributes of each one. Hybrids are developed for disease resistance, size, flower form, color, taste and any other reason a plant might be considered special. Many modern plants on sale are hybrids.

Because hybrids are a cross between varieties, seeds produced by them may not grow true. Seedlings from a hybrid can exhibit traits of one or both parents or be something totally surprising. Commercial plant hybridization requires that pollen from a selected male stamen flower part be applied to the selected female pistil for fertilization to occur and later seed production. A covering physically must isolate the pollinated flower so that self-pollination or unintended cross-pollination cannot occur. This process is repeated for years until reliable desired traits are consistently reproduced from the new hybrid.

Seeds from such commercial hybrids may be labeled as F1 hybrids because they are the first product of a cross. The plant breeder who first creates the cross owns the rights to it. That is why hybrids can be more expensive, and a buyer may see wording on the plant tag forbidding reproduction of that plant. Other commercial hybrid plants can be sterile and cannot produce seed. Always read the plant label or research a hybrid before purchase because of this. Not doing so can be a disappointment. I once invested in an expensive plant hoping to obtain more from its seedling offspring only to find it was a sterile hybrid. I “enjoyed” that plant for only one season.

Typically hybrids combine the traits of their parents. A good example is flower color. Two different colored parents may produce an entirely different colored offspring. Developing new flower colors is a primary goal of commercial plant breeders. It took years for the Burpee Company to develop a true white marigold. If the plant parents themselves are hybrids, then they carry the differing color genes of their own parent and that can lead to a host of color possibilities in their offspring.

That is the fun I have had with hybrid Petunias. Being partial to the color pink, for the last few years I have grown a hybrid pale “Bubblegum Pink “ petunia. At the end of the season, I let those plants produce seed. Those seeds grew to flower in a second generation as “volunteers” coming up where ever that seed landed in the garden. Leaving them alone to grow, I have observed all sorts of shades of pink and red varying from dark to almost white, shades of purple, even some pale pink blooms having stripes. Many of these colors are shown in the accompanying photos.

I did a similar experiment with a red and white candy-striped hybrid verbena. Its offspring this year are all solid colors ranging from white to pale pink to a strong solid red. That tells me the colors of its parents probably were red and white. Since no striped flowers were produced, that tells me that the parent plant was not a stable hybrid.

If you know that you have a hybrid plant that can produce seed, grow that seed to see what happens. You may get some fun surprises!

Connie Holland is a member of the Gettysburg Garden Club and a Penn State Master Gardener from Adams County.

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