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March 15, 2005 > Passion Flower

Passion Flower

by Pat Kite

A reader wants to know the story behind the Passion Flower. That's fun, since I actually have succeeded in growing one. Unlike the rambling white and purple Passiflora edulis that covered the back fence of my teenage West Hollywood home, my Tri-City Passiflora jamesonii, also known as "Coral Seas," is bright orange. I planted it to cover an archway. It apparently disagrees. "I need more sun," it insists. It has therefore used the
archway as a ladder to scramble up into the tippety-top of a nearby birch tree. As I look up, the flowers beckon to the sun, even on a not-so-clear day. How nice.

Our early Spanish explorers in South America "discovered" the Maracoc vine, or wild passion flower vine. Deeply religious, they believed its unusual flower design heralded Christianity's inevitable triumph in the New World.

Spanish missionaries used the Passion Flower structure to teach natives the details of Christ's Passion. The purple-fringed crown represents the crown of thorns. Together the five sepals and five petals represent the 10 faithful apostles. The three styles represent the three nails. The ovary represents the hammer used to place the nails. The five stamens represent the five wounds. The tendrils are the whips or scourge.

An early Hispanic name was "Flor de las Cinco Lllegas," or "flower of the five wounds." This became "Flower of the Passion," and later, via naturalist Linnaeus, "Passion Flower."

Several of the 400 passion flower varieties produce edible fruit. P. edulis, also called "passion fruit," gives deep purple or yellow, sweet smelling fruit that is three inches long. It makes a nice addition to fruit salads. If you want a fruiting passion vine, check the label name in a Sunset Western Garden book.

After Passiflower was introduced into Europe in the early 1600s, varieties producing fruit were trained on a wire framework. This was placed, fruit and all, on the dinner table as part of the desert course.

On the garden side, most passion flower vines get to a meandering 15 to 30 feet, some faster than others. The Banana Passion Vine, which has four to six-inch fruit, will cover a hillside. So do be selective. Your vine will need sun. It prefers decent soil, but seems happy enough in my clay. Water more or less regularly, at least to get it started.

Blooming time is May to August, sometimes longer if the weather is fair. I have read you can grow passion flower vines as a houseplant, but I think that's more a greenhouse project. I bought mine in a nursery pot, after having tried to grow Passiflora outdoors from seed, without much success.

Since many of my readers have better green thumbs, Thompson & Morgan has a variety packet of scarlet, white, purple, and red, plus others, called "Passion Fruits of the World" listed in their new seed catalogue. Look it up at, or call toll free at 800-274-7333. Sounds like a fun project. Have a happy garden day.... Spring has sprung and things are sprouting!

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