Orange Petunia Update

Chris Beytes
We call it the orange petunia situation because that’s the color that started the genetically engineered ball rolling, but it’s extended into a few other colors, with the update of USDA’s list of petunia varieties published May 25 under the following heading:

“The following petunia varieties require a U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS) import authorization, APHIS Form 2000, under BRS regulations at 7 CFR part 340.”

African Sunset
Bonnie Orange (known as Starlet Orange in North America)
Capella Red
Cascadias Red Lips
Colorworks Homarez
Confetti Garden Tangerine Tango
Confetti Garden Twist
Fortunia Early Orange
Go!Tunia Orange
Headliner Electric Orange, also known as Famous Electric Orange
Hells Bells Improved
KwikKombo Color My Sunset
KwikKombo Orange Twist
Pegasus Orange
Pegasus Table Orange
Perfectunia Mandarin
Perfectunia Orange
Potunia Plus Papaya
Salmon Ray, also known as Pegasus Orange Morn
Sanguna Salmon
Starlet Red, also known as Bonnie Red 14
Supertunia Raspberry Blast, also known as Hoobini Pink
Supertunia Rose Blast Charm, also known as Mini Rose Blast
Sweetunia Orange Flash
Trilogy ’76 Mix—Liberty Mix
Trilogy Deep Purple
Trilogy Formula Mix
Trilogy Mango
Trilogy Red
Whispers Orange, also known as Dekko Orange

Note the addition of two Supertunias, which are not orange (nor are a few of the Trilogy petunias on the list).

The story of how this all started
When GrowerTalks broke the news a few weeks ago, we’d done enough research to know that the orange petunia originated at the Max Planck Institute in Germany around 1986 or so. (At least one blogger, not having read our piece or done a bit of Googling, speculated that it was a chance crossing due to corn pollen being blown into a petunia crop).

Kelly Servick, a writer at Science magazine, took the time to do the legwork and has gotten to the bottom, more or less, of how the genetically engineered orange petunia went from lab to greenhouse, starting with S&G Seeds, which licensed the technology from the Institute. The story also outlines the accidental discovery of the genetically engineered nature of the petunias in Finland by a plant biologist at a train station in Helsinki.

The details pretty much confirm that the whole incident was an accident—truly, nobody was aware the plants they were selling contained genes from corn. It doesn’t alter the fact that we can’t sell those plants now without having them deregulated by the USDA. We can only assume that’s the next step for breeders. GT