Could petunias be carnivorous? Researchers at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens think so. Most of us are familiar with meat-eating plants such as venus flytrap, sundews, and pitcher plants. It turns out that petunias also may be more murderous than we thought. Unlike Audrey II, the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” who thrived on her caretaker Seymour’s blood, plants with sticky hairs–think petunia, potato, nicotiana, and catchfly–may be cryptic carnivores. The sticky hairs trap insects. When the ensnared insects die, they fall to the ground and break down into nutrients such as nitrogen that the plant can use as fertilizer.
Even if the devious deathtrap theory isn’t the full answer, petunias do make for killer combinations in the flower garden. Vista Bubblegum petunia was a favorite in my garden last summer. Its shimmering pink blooms glowed with a silvery sheen in sunlight. The mounds of rosy flowers reached 18 inches tall and spread over 2 feet wide. I planted them with white sweet alyssum and ‘Redbor’ kale in the boulevard area next to the street, where, despite punishing growing conditions, they looked great all summer long. I didn’t need to deadhead or trim them back to keep the nonstop display attractive.
This summer I plan to plant even more petunias. Maybe they’ll keep the mosquitoes under control.