Plant of the Week
Latin: Calibracoa hybrid
New plants for container gardens are the latest craze to sweep the
horticultural world. We’ve seen dozens of new, interesting and beautiful flowers
enter this market that growers refer to as "premium annuals."
Most of these plants have been cutting propagated, thus shortcutting the
normal decade long seed development process.
One of the most charming of these new plants is a petunia look-alike called
Million Bells Calibracoa. It’s such a well behaved and floriferous plant that it
was selected as one of the 2001 Arkansas Select plants.
Calibracoa, pronounced kal-u-bru-koa, doesn’t really have a proper common
name yet, being only introduced on grand scale in 1997. Million Bells and Lirica
Showers are competing brand names, and eventually one may be chosen as a common
Million Bells Calibracoa is a member of the potato family and has most of the
features of a petunia, except everything is shrunk down to about one-quarter
scale. Flowers, available in six colors from yellow to pink and purple, have the
familiar petunia look with a yellow throat and open to about the size of a
quarter. They are produced in abundance throughout the season. Plants are
trailing and have neat, compact foliage.
Petunias and Calibracoa were introduced into Europe from southern South
America in the early 19th century along with a number of other common annual
flowering plants such as scarlet sage, portulaca and the garden verbena. But
petunias had larger flowers and produced more seed, so they went on to fame and
glory while the small-flowered cousin slipped into the dry, dusty pages of the
herbarium cabinet. Calibracoa is not mentioned in any of my references, new or
In 1987, a Japanese company called Suntory Ltd. developed a horticultural
division and began breeding flowers. This company, little known in the West,
started over a century ago as a brewer (still accounting for 50 percent of
revenue) but diversified into foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, publishing,
resort management and flowers.
Suntory’s first big hit in the flower world was their Surfina Petunias which
were propagated and released in 1989. The ever-present Wave Petunias are a seed
grown version of the Surfinas. Their latest release in 1997, the genetically
engineered blue flowered Moondust series carnations, have not yet made their way
into the American market.
By the mid 1990's the Million Bells Calibracoa were ready for release to the
world, but Suntory Ltd. did not have a marketing branch so they licensed the
plant to Proven Winners Inc. This firm, a consortium of European and American
firms, emerged during the decade of the 90's as a major supplier of new plants
to the horticultural market. Because Calibracoa produces few seeds, the plant
was initially grown in tissue culture to clean up any latent virus diseases and
has since been propagated by cuttings.
Because Calibracoa is usually sold in 4-inch pots, it’s a little pricy to use
as a bedding plant so it is most commonly met with in containers or hanging
baskets. Its delicate flowers and trailing habit blend effectively with a host
of plants in mixed containers, but for sheer blooming display, it is best shown
off in hanging baskets.
It should have at least a half day of full sun, regular watering and routine
fertilization to stay in bloom all summer. Unlike petunias which loaded up with
seed pods and stop flowering, Calibracoa will continue blooming up to the first
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
July 5, 2001
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