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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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