Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Passionflower



The first time I ever saw a passionflower was at my neighbors' house as a child. They had just moved to North Carolina from Florida, bringing along the fanciful plants to flank the sides of their stoop as roses did ours.



I remember being enchanted by the maypops, which is what they called the green egg-shaped fruit, and how I doubted that you could actually eat them. I knew I had never seen anything like that in the Winn-Dixie.

Eventually I found out passionflowers (Passiflora incarnata) are not exotic or rare, but are, in fact, native all over the southeast.

Like most native plants, passionflowers had many uses among native peoples. The Cherokee used all parts of the plant for food and medicine. Today passion flower is used as an alternative treatment for sleeplessness and anxiety.

The flowers can be used as a beautiful edible garnish. From the fruits you can make a drink or some jelly.

Last year I wrote about searching for Passiflora incarnata at the Carolina coast. They are much more common in the eastern parts of North Carolina than in the piedmont. I finally found them at sunset, creeping along the sandy ground.

In addition to our native passionflower, there are many other beautiful species and cultivars. Most will need to be kept above 40 degrees in the winter.

In California this summer, we saw bright pink passion flowers on fences and in containers. My fourteen year old loved these even though she declared most passionflowers, "creepy and ugly."

The cartoon butterfly look of rosy stamens and knobby green stigmas, along with the purple ring at the center of the flower, proved fascinating and drew her in.


San Francisco temperatures hover around 60 degrees year round (USDA hardiness zone 8-9), so it is possible to grow more varieties of passionflower outside through the winter than in North Carolina.  Passiflora 'Coral Glow' was common in gardens there.


A pink and purple one (NOID) climbs the fence inside Golden Gate Park.

Gulf Fritillary butterflies, Zebra Longwings, Crimson-patch longwings, Red-banded hairstreaks, Julia butterflies and Mexican butterfly all use passionflower vines as larval host plants. Ants like the extrafloral nectaries; birds like the fruits.

Passiflora citrina in the McMillan Greenhouse at UNC Charlotte is radiant in a bio-tiara of lemon lime. The blooms are smaller than the other passionflowers pictured here at approximately 2 or 3 inches in diameter (compared to 4 or 5). P. citrina is from Honduras.

Passiflora 'Sherry' is small enough (with vines under six feet in length) to do especially well in containers. You can bring it inside for the winter and keep it from year to year that way; it isn't likely to be hardy below zone 8 or 9.

Below is an example of  'Sherry' with variegated sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus) and elephant ear (Caladium) at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The deep red blooms and vigorous vining get your attention from a distance. How lush and gorgeous is this?!





Purple Passionflower, USDA Plant Guide
The Legend of the Passionflower