We were having lunch with friends recently when the topic of spirit fruits came up. Yes — spirit fruits. Mine happens to be the passionfruit: not only could I eat twice my weight in it, I also want to dress myself in its oils and stare for hours into its famously surreal flowers. It’s also Ryan’s main squeeze.
Over on Reddit, Passiflora is arguably the site’s most talked-about plant. (Errrm…maybe second-most.) What’s not to obsess over? Its flowers are a collision of the eccentric and the symmetrical, suggesting outer-space gardens, Ziggy Stardust, the gears of a disco clock. (Not for nothing is it called “clock flower” in Israel and “clock plant” in Japan.) The Victorians sweated it, and one species, P. caerulea, is closely tied to Christian theology. Personally, we love how aggressively 3-D the blossom is: a plate of simple petals gives way to a colorful sizzle of coronal filaments, out of which extend the stamens in a satellite-like formation. There are 500 species in the genus, most of which are vines, and a few of which produce fruit in transcendent flavors.
On a design note, the vines are vigorous and make excellent privacy screens and outdoor wall coverings. We also like to float the cut flowers in glass or wooden bowls of water.
In our zone, the plant flowers throughout the year. We’ve had a lot of luck with our own P. caerulea vine, which originated as a tiny bare-root plant mailed to us by Ryan’s mom from her garden. We planted it along our west-facing reed fence in hopes of hiding the latter’s unfortunate appearance. (A variation on our Hide the Stucco theme.) It took a year for the young vine to grow tall enough out of its partly shaded area to find full sun above the hammock. But when it did, it took off. Within a few months, our fence, the ficus above it, and the strings of the hammock were carpeted in leaves and flowers that spark immediate conversation when guests come over.
It’s like growing your own curio cabinet!
Hummingbirds and bees also love ’em, and the plant acts as a love hotel and nursery for the gulf fritillary. The latter’s chrysalis even resembles a dried Passiflora leaf — which is quite the nifty evolutionary adaptation.
Now, on to the fruit. Our flowers smell like Sunkist soda, but alas, the fruit they produce (just a single one in four years) are minuscule and tasteless. After a day with Rawvana and a visit to Stone Farms, we were inspired to bring home a more productive Passiflora species to jam with our P. caerulea.
We landed on Passiflora edulis, which produces the juicy, tropical, tangy passionfruit we love, known in Hawaii as lilikoi. We picked up a two-foot high vine of P. edulis ‘Frederick’ last month, and planted it along the same fence at the opposite end of the hammock. It’s already filling out, and beginning its climb.