Jun 19th, 2019

Purple Passionflower

Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), both handsome and hardy, is a native that frequents fields and fencerows across our state.

Purple passionflower up close with squiggle petals.

Passionflower brings tropical beauty to RVA. [credit Tom Hennessy]

A day in the sun

The sun-loving perennial vine produces showy, exotic flowers during summer–but look fast! Each lavender bloom lasts less than a day before it shrivels and sets fruit over the course of several months.

Far and wide

The passionflower’s tenacious tendrils cling to walls and arbors as vines reach up, up and away. Contain them, or runners will spread at breakneck speed: 1 in. a day … and up to 30 feet long!

Butterfly buddy

Butterflies love to visit this flowering plant. In fact, it is the only host for the gulf fritillary and zebra longwing butterflies. Bees, moths, bats and hummingbirds are frequent guests, too.

Olfactory overload

Another bonus of the bodacious bloom is its distinctive tutti-frutti fragrance.

Ripe for the picking

The passionflower’s mature fruit is an oval berry, about the size of a small hen egg. Green at first, the berry turns to yellow. It is tasty fresh off the vine or as a tart addition to homemade jellies and jams.

Purple passionflower up close with squiggle petals.

Photo by Tom Hennessy.

Maypop

Its nickname—maypop—hints at what happens if you happen to step on its hollow fruit.

Spiritual symbolism

The passionflower supposedly points to the Christian crucifixion story (also called the Passion). The bloom’s 10 petal-like parts represent Jesus’ disciples (excluding deniers Peter and Judas), the five stamens signify Jesus’ wounds, the knob-like stigmas suggest the nails, and the fringed ring resembles the crown of thorns.

Relatively speaking

Its sister variety, yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea), is also native to Virginia, but less known — and less dramatic, with smaller yellow flowers.

Look for passionflowers in the Children’s Garden and along the Cherry Tree Walk at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. 

Note: This article first appeared in the Discover Richmond magazine.

About Lynn Kirk

Lynn Kirk, a freelance writer and marketing consultant, has collaborated with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden since 2002. She considers it a joy and privilege to write newspaper articles and member newsletters for such a top-rated (and utterly gorgeous!) public garden.

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