Infatuated with passionflower

By Jean English | Jul 24, 2011
Photo by: Jean English All parts of the passionflower plant are striking, including the flower, foliage, tendrils and flower bud.

This spring a couple of Unity College students gave me a blue passionflower plant that they had grown from a cutting. Watching its growth and flowering since then has become a joyful daily practice.

This passionflower, Passiflora caerulea, is a fast-growing vine with tendrils as clingly as a 2-year-old wrapped around your leg, and flowers that look like something that might have come from outer space or deep in the ocean; the plant is actually native to Brazil and Argentina. Even its dark green, deeply lobed leaves are unusual.

The plant can be grown from seed (available from many sources online) or from cuttings. Take cuttings in summer from near the base of the plant rather than from the tips of the vines for better success with rooting. Vines can also be propagated by layering them in spring or fall.

Hardy to zones 8 or 6 or to 10 F or 25 F, depending on the resource, in our area the plant should be grown in a container outdoors or in a greenhouse and brought indoors and set in a south-facing window in the fall. It is easy to grow in a container, but the long vines (up to 30 feet in their native habitat; mine are about 6 feet long so far) need support, or try growing the plant in a hanging pot.

Avoid soil with too much compost, which can stimulate vegetative growth rather than flowering. Give the roots plenty of room and a well-drained medium. My plant is in an 8-inch pot now, but I’ll transplant it to a larger pot next spring.

While the plants like regular watering, heat and humidity, and partial to full sun in summer, they should have cool conditions and less water in winter.

They flower on new growth, so prune the vines back to a foot or so in spring.

The flowers may be followed by egg-shaped orange fruits that are edible but reportedly don’t taste great or even good raw.

Cultivars on the market include ‘Chinensis’ with blue flowers, 'Constance Elliott' with fragrant white flowers and bright orange fruits, 'Regnellii' with very long corona filaments (the blue flower parts that extend out from the center in the photo) and 'Grandiflora' with 8-inch-diameter flowers.

At the 2004 Common Ground Country Fair, horticulturist Lee Reich suggested growing another Passiflora. Maypop, Passiflora incarnata, is an herbaceous vine with perennial roots that is “worth growing just for the flowers,” said Reich.

Its egg-sized fruits have a gelatinous covering around the seeds and provide the main taste in Hawaiian punch. Reich adds in his book "Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden" that maypop fruits can vary in flavor. To help these plants overwinter, mulch them, he says. By doing that, he has been able to grow them in his Zone 4 garden in New York.

Passiflora incarnata, by the way, is used in Avena Botanical’s Passion Flower Liquid Extract, said (but not by the FDA) to help alleviate sleep disturbances.

Jean English lives in Lincolnville.

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