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Little plant of horrors: Mexican petunia in Florida

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Mexican petunia at the Archer road entrance of the Publix at Tower Square.
Brian Harfe

Upon moving to Gainesville 7 years ago my wife and I were transfixed by clumps of vivid violet Mexican petunias. Coming from New England, we had never seen such an interesting color blossom. Mexican petunias in the Gainesville climate are perennials. They grow ~3 feet tall in full sun with each stalk producing multiple flowers throughout the summer that bloom for a single day. After a hard frost they die back to the ground and then sprout anew in early spring.

The problem with this plant, not just in Gainesville but also throughout Florida, is that it is highly invasive, a characteristic that local plant retailers fail to mention (however it is listed by the Florida Exotic Plant Council as an invasive species). Having no idea this beautiful flower was bent on takeover, my wife and I decided to plant a clump of Mexican petunias in the front of our new house. One year later we had Mexican petunias invading a nearby annual bed, rose garden and even sprouts popping up in our St. Augustine grass!

For the past four years we have raged an ongoing battle to remove this “pest” from our yard by pulling new shoots as they appear. Currently, we have only been mildly successful (we maintain a mostly organic yard and refuse to treat the area with herbicides).

Mexican petunias can be used successfully in the Gainesville landscape, if they are planted in an appropriate location (i.e. they can be contained within the desired area). A wonderful example of landscaping with Mexican petunias can be found at the Archer Road entrance to the Tower Square shopping center in Gainesville, where a large cluster of Mexican petunias profusely flower throughout the summer months. In this location, a curb surrounds the plants, thus limiting their ability to invade nearby habitats (see photo).

In my experience, the pink Mexican petunia, while not as striking a color as the violet version, is easier to control. There are also blue and white dwarf varieties that are not as invasive. For additional information on other types of Mexican petunias including information on growing them in locations outside of Gainesville please click here.

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