Petunia belongs to the family of the Solanaceae and is closely related to important crop species such as tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper and tobacco. With around 35 species described it is one of the smaller genera and among those there are two groups of species that make up the majority of them: the purple flowered P.integrifolia group and the white flowered P.axillaris group. It is assumed that interspecific hybrids between members of these two groups have laid the foundation for the huge variation in cultivars as selected from the 1830’s onwards. Petunia thus has been a commercially important ornamental since the early days of horticulture. Despite that, Petunia was in use as a research model only parsimoniously until the late fifties of the last century. By then seed companies started to fund academic research, initially with the main aim to develop new color varieties. Besides a moment of glory around 1980 (being elected a promising model system, just prior to the Arabidopsis boom), Petunia has long been a system in the shadow. Up to the early eighties no more then five groups developed classical and biochemical genetics, almost exclusively on flower color genes. Then from the early eighties onward, interest has slowly been growing and nowadays some 20-25 academic groups around the world are using Petunia as their main model system for a variety of research purposes, while a number of smaller and larger companies are developing further new varieties. At present the system is gaining credibility for a number of reasons, a very important one being that it is now generally realized that only comparative biology will reveal the real roots of evolutionary development of processes like pollination syndromes, floral development, scent emission, seed survival strategies and the like. As a system to work with, Petunia combines advantages from several other model species: it is easy to grow, sets abundant seeds, while self- and cross pollination is easy; its...
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