PHOTOS BY RYAN BENOIT

Social Climber: Passion Flowers Are From the Future

PHOTOS BY RYAN BENOIT

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.

Ina Wall Trellis in leaf color, growing Passion Flower vine

Passiflora ‘Elizabeth’ is a head-turner growing against the bold yellow of this TerraTrellis. (Photo courtesy of TerraTrellis.)

Passiflora vitifolia

Spotted in the South Park neighborhood of San Diego: The crimson-red Passiflora vitifolia.

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Our Passiflora caerulea.

Passiflora caerulea gone wild in Alexandria, Virginia

Sometimes we’ll snip our passion flowers and float them in bowls as impromptu centerpieces.

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!

Passiflora caerulea gone wild in Alexandria, Virginia

Passiflora caerulea gone wild in Alexandria, Virginia

Passiflora caerulea gone wild in Alexandria, Virginia

Passiflora caerulea gone wild in Alexandria, Virginia

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Ryan’s mother mailed a three-inch-long bare-root plant from Leland, North Carolina, in May of 2010. We planted it in a well-drained area of our garden and give it small amounts of water through drip irrigation every other day. We never have had to fertilize it.

Passion

Passiflora caerulea gone wild in Alexandria, Virginia

After almost four years, our single stemmed vine is now three-quarter inches in diameter.

Ryan shows off his flossy Passiflora stole. You like?

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. 

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Bees lap up the nectar at the base of the stamen.

Hummingbirds and Passiflora caerulea

A hummingbird drops by.

Gulf fritillary.

For the gulf fritillary, the leaves of the passion flower plant is a place to mate and lay its eggs.

Gulf fritillary caterpillar.

We usually let the caterpillars chomp away before cutting back the vine in December each year to remove all the dead and munched leaves. The vine always springs back with a vengeance.

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.

—TH

Fruit of Passiflora caerulea.

The fruit of the Passiflora caerulea is nothing to write home about. Above is the yield from Ryan’s mom’s plant last June.

Passiflora edulis 'Frederick'

At the other end of the taste spectrum is P. edulis, the passionfruit we know and love — and call “lilikoi” in Hawaii. At Stone Farms in Escondido, David Solomon and ‘El Maestro’ show off their delicious crop.

Passiflora edulis 'Frederick'

…And they were nice enough to send us home with camera bag full of ‘em! We washed the fruit down with some of Stone Brewing’s Smoked Porter.

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For extra sweetness, Rawvana advised us to wait until they’re nice and dimpled before eating.

Passiflora edulis ‘Frederick’ is known for its theatrical flowers and tangy fruits.

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Our junior P. edulis has already began it’s sprawl up the distressed reed fence on the other side of our hammock. Give it three more months…

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Rainforest caviar, prepare to get eaten.

 

 

  • adam cortell

    Wow! I was considering kiwi, but now I not sure. I am in zone 7b. Any suggestions for a passiflora to get started with? Thanks for the great photos.

    • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

      Kiwi! Another dreamy fruit we’d love to grow. As far as the hardier passion vine varieties go, the “maypop,” aka Passiflora incarnata, has been known to survive as cold as Zone 5. The fruit is supposed to be tasty too. (Glad you like the photos — thanks for reading!)

  • laurenfwood

    Very interesting. I have been thinking of planting one of these on my roof deck. The spot I want to put them in is sunny, but in the afternoon only. Do you think these would do okay with afternoon sun and in a container?

    • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

      Ours only gets afternoon sun so you should be fine! We’d recommend to use at least a 12-inch pot with drainage holes. Also, make sure to use some organic potting soil and your passiflora should grow strong!

  • Corrie Morales Rausch

    I bought one at the UCI plant sale years ago, in anticipation of the patio cover my husband planned to build. Long story short it grew like crazy, the building of the cover happened quite a bit slower (by about 2 years!), so the Passion Flower was never planted into the ground, but the end result was beautiful, the plant was huge with lovely red flowers. It was happy and healthy for a number of years, until our 160 # Newfoundland dog, broke the trunk :-( We now have another one this time planted in the ground!! Again beautiful and this one grows fruit. I would say the only drawback is the number of unwanted critters we get hoping for a free meal (rats and squirrels for sure- who knows what else!) Don’t mind sharing the crop, just don’t like the poop that falls on our patio table below…kinda kills the appetite!!

    • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

      Ha! Flora versus fauna. We have our share of fruit-loving critters (possum and tree rats mostly; there’s a dinner party story we need to share about the latter one day) but who can blame them? So glad to hear your second passion plant is doing well. And we need to hit up that UCI plant sale…

  • Lisa Harper

    Such an interesting gift from Mother Nature. Long time reader! Enjoy every post. Love the photography and the writing!!

    • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

      aw, thanks, Lisa! We’re happy to have you here :-)