A Passion for Passion flower

Earlier this spring, I mentioned  that vines are great in the garden for all their lovely blooms (Part I- Overview and Part II – Native Vines). A reader asked about edible vines, and here is one option for the Southwest – passion flower!

Passion vine uses tendrils to hang on and climb.

Plants with a Punch

Called variously passion flower, passion fruit and just plain passion vine, Passiflora has over 500 species and countless varieties, most with edible fruit. You may have tasted it before! Hawaiian Punch is made from the tasty Passiflora edulis. That particular species is not very happy in our alkaline soils and low humidity (Hawai’ian remember), but there is a native species that grows well here.

The non-native passion flower is pollinated by day flying insects so it lacks fragrance but it is colorful!

Plant Native Passion

In the Southwest, the best passion vine to plant is the native species Passiflora foetida. It is found in both the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert regions, from Baja, through Arizona, New Mexico, and into Texas, and our sister states of Sonora, Chihuahua, nd Nuevo Leon. In Arizona plants are sold as Sonoran passion vine, but in Texas it is Texas passionflower. Other common names for the plant include running pop, love-in-a-mist, stinking passion flower, wild maracuja, bush passion fruit, marya-marya, and wild water lemon. What ever you call it, the bloom appears the same. Stunning!

Not quite as showy as it’s jungle cousins, our native passion flower is still uniquely beautiful. And fragrant!

Passiflora foetida blooms don’t wither in the sunlight – at least at first. The plant cannily opens it’s flowers in the sultry warmth of the evening as the sun goes down. It releases a somewhat sweet, heavy, musky scent that draws in bats and the giant sphinx or hummingbird moths. Blooms then last into the daylight hours, and the butterflies flock in as well. I have seen queen, monarch, and gulf fritillary butterflies all at the same time on the flowers.

Plants flower and set fruit all summer long. Fruits develop inside their little green “cages” which dry up and blow away when the fruit is ripe.

Fast Growing

A fast grower, a single Passiflora foetida plant can cover 20 by 15 feet in a year. In the garden with extra water, the plant is covered with flowers from March to first freeze, and the fruits ripen in four to six weeks, all summer long! Yum! In the wild they bloom with the monsoons.

The native passion vine is covered with soft hairs that help reflect sunlight and reduce water loss.

At a previous home, I planted one plant under a mesquite tree and it wove handsomely up through the foliage. Passion flower vines are well behaved and will not choke the tree like some of the aggressive vines (kudzu). The birds appreciated the fruits way up in the trees but I only got a few of the lower fruits. Lesson learned. Arbors for edibles in the future.

Ripe fruit galore!

Southwest native passion vine prefers well-drained soils. Think sandy, not clay. My plants were especially happy in enriched garden soil. Don’t worry if the stems of this subtropical fruit die to the ground in the winter. It should quickly resprout in spring, as soon as the soils warm – sometime around St. Patrick’s Day.

This is the fruit of another species of passion vine. You eat the inside not the rind. You can also make a tasty jelly with the fruit.

Eating Passion Fruit

Don’t try to eat this like an apple! The way to eat passion fruit is to slit open the leathery outer rind and feast on the sweet flesh and seeds inside. A spoon helps – but we didn’t bother with such refinements as kids. Passion fruit can store for at least a month in the ‘fridge, good to know because if you leave ripe fruits on the vine, the birds will get them.

Learn More about Southwest Gardening

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More about growing fruit in the Southwest in my book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press)

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2 thoughts on “A Passion for Passion flower

  1. My daughter has a couple passion flower vines. Gulf fritillary butterflies lay eggs on them, which turn into a massive number of caterpillars that literally decimate the vines, chomping away at a speed that is quite impressive. Eventually, the pupa/chrysalis develops leading to the emergence of new frits. The straggle of vine that is left looks like it is dead. Yet every time the vine comes back with vigor, blooming … until the gulf fritillaries come back. Such a cool vine!

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