Petunias with blooms of white, purple, pink, red and yellow populate greenhouses at Ohio State University's Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center (OPGC). Petunias are not uncommon, but what makes these so special is that they haven't been in the public eye for nearly 40 years.
Researchers at the OPGC, located on the campus of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, are restoring the seed viability of heirloom petunias. The seed, which has been sitting in storage at the U.S. Department of Agriculture since the 1960s, was recently transferred to the OPGC.
"We were told that the viability of the seed was very low," said David Tay, OPGC director. "It was our job to try and save that seed and produce germplasm of the cultivars produced for future research and perhaps renew market interest."
So far, five different open-pollinated heirloom petunia cultivars have been restored and researchers are working on another 25. The plants come in a variety of flower colors and sizes. The petunia, a summer annual, is known for its diverse colors and easy maintenance, both in the landscape and in gardens (including container gardening).
"These plants are frozen in time. No one is growing these cultivars anymore," said Tay. "I think there is a renewed interest in some of the old-style flowers. Many people want to grow them but they are just not in the market."
The OPGC, a cooperative effort between Ohio State and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, was developed to save, assess and promote the use of herbaceous ornamental plant germplasm. It is the first such undertaking in the world. To date, over 2,700 plant accessions have been collected.