Petunia 'Black Cat' The World's First Black Petunia

I have loved black plants since I discovered gardening. More time has been spent day dreaming of being a Victorian or Edwardian gardener than I care to admit. If last year you had given me access to a TARDIS and allowed me to go back in time and experience gardening then- I would have jumped at the chance. It’s a good thing that nobody showed up with a TARDIS last year because I would’ve missed out on the opportunity to grow petunia ‘Black Cat,’ billed as “the world’s very first black petunia” by W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

Black Cat Petunias by Burpee Seed Company

Earlier this spring Burpee sent me a box of three free petunia ‘Black Cat’ plants to grow in my garden. After acclimating the plants and placing them in the container garden I noticed that they looked more purple than black when they started blooming. I chalked this up to a mistake in shipping or labeling, but was happy enough with the free plant samples. Some things had to be moved around the porch garden and I moved the petunias purported to be ‘Black Cat’ to a spot where they got shade from the harsh full sun of the porch garden.

Black Cat Petunia, Burpee

The subsequent blooms of petunia ‘Black Cat’ began to unfurl and they were black. Like, really, really black. Wow, they have indeed bred the world’s first black flowering petunia.

Petunia Black Cat, black garden flower

Here’s another ‘Black Cat’ flower produced when I moved them to get more shade. Do the hues of these two flowers look darker than the picture at the top to you? Once again I moved the plants to full sun and noticed that they were again producing blooms that looked more purple. So I contacted Burpee and asked if it was my imagination.

“I have noticed also that the color sometimes appears to be deep purple, but on my observations it happened in low light, and they are more visible on the back side of the petals,” says Venelin G. Dimitrov, Buyer/Product Manager- Flower Seed W. Atlee Burpee & Co. 

I agree with Mr. Dimitrov that the purple coloring is more noticeable on the back side of the petals, but in my observation it has happened when I exposed the plants to full sun. Not a big deal really, I just find this interesting.

Petunia 'Phantom' Petunia 'Black Cat'

This week a heatwave hit Chicago and some of my ‘Black Cat’ petunias started to display the yellow streak in the leaves that’s characteristic of petunia ‘Phantom.’ I guess there’s some ‘Phantom’ in the lineage of ‘Black Cat.’ Also note how the underside of the leaves is a lot more purple than the pictures above.

Petunia 'Phantom'
Petunia ‘Phantom’ at the Mid-America Horticultural Trade Show

Again I turned to Burpee for insight into the yellow streak developing in my ‘Black Cat’ blooms.

“We also noticed that some yellow will appear, but that happens only when the plants are stressed by heat or lack of water. Variations are common in new colors,” says Dimitrov. “I will observe the plants this summer, through future selection this reverse will be avoided completely.” 

I wasn’t really surprised by ‘Black Cat’ reverting, I’d read reports by other gardeners online and was expecting it to happen with my black flowers too. Can you imagine turning into your parents when you’re under stress? Genetics are a strange and wonderful thing.

Petunia ‘Black Cat’ certainly is the blackest flower I’ve ever seen in person, I have to feel bad for all those Victorian and Edwardian gardeners who dreamt of black flowers like this and never got to experience them. Whether you’re a Goth gardener or are just looking for an interesting annual to add to your garden I can’t recommend petunia ‘Black Cat’ enough. It has blended well with every color I’ve paired it up with in the container gardens this year. You may come across petunia ‘Black Velvet’ in catalogs or at the garden centers, it is the same petunia as ‘Black Cat’ sold by W. Atlee Burpee & Co. This batch of black petunias where developed by Jianping Ren at Ball Colegrave in the UK, which is part of the Ball Horticultural Company based in West Chicago, Illinois., by crossing various petunias until the dark color was achieved.

TL;DR Burpee’s petunia ‘Black Cat’ really is the world’s first black petunia, may revert to petunia ‘Phantom’ due to heat or lack of water; is the same petunia as ‘Black Velvet’ sold by the Ball Horticultural Company. I’ll still take a ride in a TARDIS though.

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