Zones: 4a – 10b
Size: 15 to 25 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Sun to light shade
The passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) is arguably the most beautiful flower in the world. When friends visiting my garden in early summer see this flower for the first time, their faces become alive with wonder. The flower is truly amazing. Trying to get a better look, my friends will usually cock their head and walk around to view the flower from all sides. Fascination is the word where passion flower is concerned.
The name is derived from the Passion of Christ. According to legend, in the early 1600s, a Jesuit priest discovered the vine growing wild in Peru. That evening, in a vision, the priest associated components of the bloom with Christ’s Passion. Each of the flower’s parts–petals, sepals, corona, pistil, stigma, stamen and anthers– represents the crucifixion.
The five sepals and five petals of the flower represent the ten faithful disciples.
The corona, the ring of petal-like structures, is thought to symbolize both the halo around Christ’s head and the crown of thorns.
The pistil bears three prominent stigma at the center of the bloom and is said to symbolize the three nails used in Christ’s crucifixion.
The five stamens and five anthers symbolize the five wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during the Crucifixion.
The passion flower, also known as May-pops, is a vigorous grower, so you may need to keep an eye on it, and give it plenty of space. A native to the Americas, passion vine can be found growing in Texas to New York. I have it growing along the chain of the swing hanging from the back porch. Each year, I have to prune it back severely. Oh, and it spreads; but I do it for the passion for the plant because so does the Gulf fritillary butterfly.
I’ve yet to find any Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanilla) eggs or the orange and black caterpillars on my vine. I still continue to grow it though, believing that if I build it, they will come. I can trust in this somewhat because the range of the Gulf fritillary meets the range of the Passiflora incarnata.
The passion vine is also the host plant for several other butterflies in addition to the Gulf fritillary, including variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia), the Zebra Heliconians, formally known as the Zebra longwing (Heliconius charitonius), Julia Dryas (Dryas iulia), and the Crimson patch (Chlosyne janais). The range of these butterflies is too southern for me; but for those in Florida and Texas, rock on!
THEN THERE WAS THE TIME….
If ever there was a time that I wished I had my camera with me, it was the day I severely pruned the passion vine off of the arbor in the Butterfly Garden at the JC Raulston Arboretum, in Raleigh, North Carolina. As curator of this garden, it is my job to keep it maintained. There was just a bit too much passion in our passion vine. What you don’t see in the photo is the vine had completely covered the arbor, nearly hanging to the ground.
To remove it, I first cut the underside vines where they weaved through. I was pretty tickled with myself. Then climbing to the top, I decided to cut the back of the vine where it arrived on the arbor (at the back, right side), then snipped the sides. I then positioned myself on the top near the back end (on right) and rolled the vine like a carpet and dropped it down the front. It was an awesome feat! I still think about it. It took a whopping three hours. That’s a long time for a job like this. That’s a lot of passion!