Pull It or Plant It: Passionflower

Feb 15, 2021 | Native Plants

A mature man with white hair poses on either side of a purple flower; on one side he is smiling and holding a canned beverage and a piece of fruit; on the other he is wrestling with a tangled mess of vines.

DD: The flowers of larger species, such as purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), are incredibly ornate, complicated and attractive. Spanish
missionaries, who used these flowers’ complex parts to illustrate the story of Christ’s crucifixion, gave the common name “passionflower.”

After the incredible flowers come tasty fruits. Tear the skin open and scoop out the seeds, which are coated with a thin layer of exotic-tasting flesh (much like the fruit of P. incarnata’s tropical relative, P. edulis, sold as “passionfruit”).

The Biblical imagery continues with P. foetida, which has slightly smaller and less showy flowers. The correspondingly smaller fruits are clasped by long, ornate,
feathery bracts, which inspired the name “corona de Cristo” or “Christ’s crown.” It is also known as “love-in-a-mist.” For those less romantically or religiously minded, the bract-enclosed fruit might more readily recall alien pods from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Importantly, the foliage provides larval food for several very desirable butterfly species, such as the Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and — if you’re lucky — the zebra longwing (Heliconius charithonia).

DD: These things send out underground runners and spread like crazy, almost like golden bamboo. I planted some P. incarnata on a vertical trellis, and I not only need to constantly pull nearby suckers, but it can send runners to very impressive distances — we’re talking upwards of 20 feet.

Meanwhile, I’ve got perhaps slightly less aggressive action coming from corona de Cristo (also known as “stinking passionflower”) growing on a fence. But, before you know it, I am untangling 30-foot long vines from the incredibly spiny branches of my Thai lime tree (not a fun task).

Actually, it’s not even really corona de Cristo, but the Latin American fringed passionflower (P. ciliata), which has for many years been sold as the South Texas native corona de Cristo because its red fruits are much more attractive than the yellowish-green fruits of corona de Cristo.

A little further down the fence, blue passionflower (P. caerulea) from South America just appeared on its own. Maybe a bird helped. I sure didn’t plant it.

In other regions, certain passionflowers are considered invasive and can seriously compete with crops.


DD: These plants can spread aggressively, so cultivate with caution. If you are growing them for caterpillar food, consider some of the smaller, perhaps less unruly species: P. affinis, P. lutea or the striking birdwing passionflower, P. tenuiloba.

DD: They sure look cool; I enjoy snacking on the fruits (note: not all are edible); and they produce some of my favorite butterflies. Someday I will move mine into containers and eradicate the rest from my yard. It took only a few years to get rid of the bamboo.