My Crazy Petunias

My summer pots usually feature a petunia somewhere, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to trial a new variety called 'Crazytunia Pulse' this year. As you can see their growth is more upright than usual, which I'm very pleased with. I've found their sturdier nature means I'm not seeing the usual dieback I have with other petunias.

However, I was a little nonplussed by the flowers. I've been nurturing these plants indoors since early April and the flowers I'd had before planting out at the end of June were a gorgeously velvety wine red. Whilst these blooms are still acceptable, that dark red had spoiled me. I thought the paler blooms might be due to lack of feed, but as you can see they've continued flowering in the same way after I'd fed them.

Here's a closer look at that lower bloom in the top picture, so you get a good idea of what my flowers look like... hold that thought...

... because this is how they look in the catalogue I rediscovered last week. As you can see they're completely different. So I had a little ponder... my feeding and watering's OK, but the flowers not only look different to the catalogue but also to those I had earlier in the year. How could that be?

So I asked Michael Perry, Thompson & Morgan's New Product Development Manager via Twitter, who confirmed what I'd been suspecting:

"We've found they can be very sensitive to light and temps.. And actually don't need lots of fert, better colours when neglected..."

The proximity of my 'Crazytunias' to my Salvia 'Hot Lips' - it also changes colour with temperature - gave me the clue, which Michael confirmed in his DM :)

Come to think of it, changing flower colour in response to environmental conditions isn't that rare. For example, we all know about the change from blue to pink in lots of hydrangeas depending on whether the soil is acid or alkaline...

... we also get leaf colour changes in the autumn - chlorophyll production slows down, then stops due to changing daylength and falling temperatures, which allows the other leaf pigments to shine through...

... and a bit of light googling revealed flower colour variation is common in Hibiscus (there's a very interesting read all about it here), asters* and daylilies. It seems flower colour can vary owing to changes in temperature, light conditions (cloudy, sunny), pH, daylength, watering, feed, plant stress, or a combination of any of these.

I'm beginning to think growing plants with static flower colouration is a little bit, well ordinary ;)

Here's a final, gratuitous look at my 'Crazytunia', simply because I'm delighted with the
accidental combination I obtained with some self-sown Violas
* = This quote is from research on the anthocyanin levels in aster flowers and is just one of many that investigate the effects of low temperatures on flower anthocyanin levels:

"Temperature is one of the main external factors affecting anthocyanin accumulation in plant tissues: low temperatures cause an increase and elevated temperatures cause a decrease in anthocyanin concentration." from Physiol Plant. 2002 Apr;114(4):559-565.

I found the above quote via a question asked about flower colour variation in a discussion forum on plant botany. Apparently raised anthocyanin levels means more red pigmentation is seen, and carotinoids affects the amount of yellow.


  1. You might find that, if the anthocyanin levels are high the flowers are more drought and frost resistant. If it's not too much of a plug, I put a whole lot of research into it for this article on Growblog

    1. Hi Helen - it's a fascinating topic and I had to resist adding lots more links to this post.

      And no, it's not too much of a plug at all - I see we're also back at last year's conversation about the role anthocyanins may play with slug resistance and your piece has a neat link back to here on that topic :)

      Thanks Helen!

  2. Lol - you were never going to expect anything called Crazytunia Pulse to behave like a normal flower, were you?
    On the other hand, I am a little bit sceptical about T&M. I've ordered 'Roxanne' geraniums from them (blue) that turned out to be a dirty pink variety, and white Nicotiana sylvestris that turned out to be bedding nicotiana in various shades of dirty pink. Then there was the promotional pack of Bells Purple and White antirrhinums that they sent into the office that turned out to be, erm, dirty pink. Perhaps anthocyanin accumulation was to blame for these incidents, but I still don't see how it would make nicotiana turn out a quarter of the size as well as a different colour.
    T&M always say that they'll refund the money, but four months down the track, when your plants have turned out a different colour, you're not really interested in a refund. You just want the right plant!

    1. Tee hee - they are rather well named aren't they?

      I remember all your plants turning out to be pink! At the moment, mine have shifted into more of a yellow phase...

  3. I think seed catalogue photos can be very deceptive. I grew some dahlias from seed that were supposed to be pompom varieties. In the event they were semi double at the best with most being single. They also were described a being a good colour range when most of ours were pale yellow. The comment from the seed company was that they were often single in their first year. That doesn't help if you want to grow them as annuals.

    1. Hi Sue, Hmm, how annoying. I did write a guide to 'cataloguespeak' a while ago which was a humourous look at some of the things they say ;)

    2. Hi Sue - there's such a rich seam of possibilities I wrote 2 of them ;)

    3. Thanks for taking to trouble to read them. I had a lot of fun putting those posts together and it was nice to revisit them earlier today - made me giggle all over again ;)


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