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Calibrachoa Cerv. 1881X ‘White Chimes’
pronounced: kall-ih-bruh-KOE-uh hybrid
(Solanaceae – the nightshade family)
common name: Million Bells
Calibrachoa was named for Antonio de la Cal y Bracho (1766 – 1833), a Mexican botanist and pharmacologist. The flowers of the plants in this genus are very similar to the petunia, and, indeed, Calibrachoa was originally included in that genus, for about 150 years; but major differences in the DNA of the two genera were discovered in 1990, and account for external differences and breeding behaviour. The genus originated in South America, from southern Brazil across to Peru and Chile. Early species of the plants were introduced to the southern coasts of the USA, particularly to California and Florida. They were called Beach or Seashore Petunias. In 1988 a Japanese company, Suntory Ltd, collected wild species for an intensive breeding programme. Their research led to the introduction of Calibrachoa hybrid ‘Million Bells’ into the marketplace in 1997.
These are weak, ever-green, short-lived perennials and subshrubs with a sprawling, semi-decumbent habit. They branch abundantly, particularly in the secondary branches, and give a great profusion of blooms, with the entire plant remaining in bloom for a considerable period of time. The plants photographed are part of The Chimes Collection of hybrids, all of which are similar in habit, but differing in the colour of the flowers. Apart from the white flowers shown here, there are also red, violet, cherry, golden, coral, peach and terracotta varieties. As well as their use as bedding plants, their mounding and cascading habit makes them ideal for pots, patio planters, window-boxes and hanging baskets. In the garden bed, they usually grow to about 20 cm high, and spread to about 50 cm. The flowers are approximately 2 cm across. They produce little or no seed, and the plants must be propagated vegetatively† from stem cuttings. There is as yet very little seed available commercially, but a number of growers are now breeding new hybrids, and the outlook for seed availability in the future is hopeful.
The little trumpet-shaped flowers self-clean, so dead-heading is not necessary. The more sun received by the plant, at least in more temperate climates than ours, the heavier the bloom. Heat and drought in moderation do not reduce the amount of blossom, but too much shade will. If plants begin to decline in extended heat, pruning back by about half seems to help them recover. Plants grown in containers need more frequent watering than those in garden beds.
Calibrachoa are heavy feeders. Container plants should preferably be fed twice a month, and bedding plants monthly, with a liquid fertilizer. In the garden, they prefer a well-drained, slightly acidic soil (pH 6 is best).
The rich nectar in the flowers attracts butterflies, bees and humming-birds.
† most of the varieties, including the Chimes Collection, are patented, and may not be propagated except under licence
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009
Page last updated
214th October 2016