Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a wonderful plant friend to know. Whether you find a viney patch somewhere or you cultivate it in your garden, it’s an invaluable ally. Wherever these unique and unusual flowers are seen growing, they’re sure to turn a few heads! Read on to learn how to grow and use these beauties.
This plant has one of the most unusual blooms that I’ve ever found in the wild. The first time I saw a flowering purple passionflower, I had to put down everything I was carrying so I could look at it closer. I hunched down to the ground and studied its wiggly tendrils and underside petals. I never knew anything so unusual-looking could grow in the wild!
This plant has “perfect flowers”, meaning that they contain both female and male reproductive parts. The female flowers don’t always allow fertilization and have almost seemed to atrophy in many species. This leaves most flowers to remain only functionally male.
The flowers usually only last for 1-3 days. Due to the higher percentage of male flowers and short blooming, not all flowers will produce a fruit. However, the passionflower is capable of increasing the number of female flowers. It all depends on need, and if growing conditions are ideal.
Passionflower is a fast-growing perennial that most commonly grows in long vines. Its little tendrils help it to cling onto anything it can along its way. A single vine can reach lengths of 15-30 feet in a single growing season. So, if you’re planning to grow it, keep in mind how much they grow and allow enough room for them to spread.
There are about 500 types of known passionflower. The majority of them are tropical varieties, but a few sub-tropical varieties can be grown as well. Most commonly grown varieties of passiflora are hardy in zones 5-10, though they will usually die back each winter.
In the USA, the most common type grown is Passiflora incarnata: our purple passionflower. It grows a beautiful purple flower, or sometimes a very light purple hues that’s almost white. It’s commonly found growing wild in the southeastern states. This type (specifically the fruit) is usually known as a “maypop”.
The main thing to remember when growing these beautiful plants is to make sure they have enough room. They’ll crawl on anything they can reach, so set up a trellis to help keep them happy. Your other plants will thank you!
If you find a passionflower in the wild that you want to transplant into your garden, keep their deep tap roots in mind. Dig wide, so that your shovel doesn’t accidentally cut them. You can also try following the vine until you find a sucker root growing and take a rooted cutting from there.
Growing passionflower from seed can be a bit tricky. I’ve had the best luck when I soaked the seeds for about a day before I planted them. If you put the seeds in a glass of water, the viable seeds will sink. Throw out any left floating at the top.
After that, they only need about 1/4 “ of well-drained soil pulled over top of them. A heating pad placed beneath your seed tray will help yield a higher number of seedlings. Keep your soil moist, and hopefully in 2-3 weeks you should start to see little seedlings. Some varieties can take weeks or even months to germinate.
Keep your little sprouts out of direct sunlight for the beginning of their life. The cotyledon (first leaves) will grow first, followed shortly by true leaves. Wait until these little seedlings have several sets of true leaves before transplanting them to their new home.
Plant your seedlings (or transplants) where they can get a lot of sunlight. Purple passionflower will produce best when in grown in an area that stays pretty sunny throughout the year. Passiflora likes long, warm summers, which will help to ripen its fruit. In very hot places, a little afternoon shade will really help your plant beat the heat.
Choose a fairly neutral soil pH: about 5.5 – 7.5 is perfect. Add a little compost into your soil to help them off to a great start. Keep soil moist until your plants are growing strong. Once passionflower is established, it can survive in near drought conditions.
Gardeners that live further north will have better luck if they mulch around their passionflower. This will help protect the taproot from freezing temperatures during the cold season.
When purple passionflower first begins growing, it’ll develop a deep tap root. As time goes on, the creeping vines will begin dropping down, making sucker roots where it makes contact with the ground. Passiflora will also use its underground network of roots to begin sending out little plants up to 8 feet away.
Passionflower needs to be cross pollinated. Plant more than one to increase your chances for more fruit. After about 1-2 years, you can expect to start seeing fruit, but it will take 2-4 years until your plant is in its prime.
Around July-September you will begin to see the amazing flowers start to bloom. Each flower only lasts about a day or two, so keep your eyes open!
These flowers are pollinated by both insects and animals. Their best friends are bumblebees, carpenter bees, wasps, bats, and hummingbirds. Though, it’s carpenter bees that are responsible for the majority of pollinating.
It is not just the passiflora flower that attracts insects either. Leaves are eaten by the larvae of many different Lepidoptera species (moths and butterflies.) A specific tribe of long-winged butterflies (heliconiinae) seem to especially enjoy feeding on it.
As many insects that this gorgeous flower feeds, it’s not a friend to every species that crawls too close.
Passionflower is what is called a “protocarnivorous” plant, meaning that it eats insects in some way. It doesn’t have parts that move like the famous jaws of the carnivorous venus flytrap though.
Instead, the bracts coming out of each flower have hairs covered in a sticky fluid. that some small insects will get stuck in. The insects are then digested to become a sort of nutrient-rich slime. Luckily, most of the insects that meet this fate are known to be pests. This is another great reason to grow passionflower in your garden this season.
Purple Passionflower Medicinal Uses
Passionflower has been used as an antispasmodic, a sedative, and even an aphrodisiac. The Aztecs commonly used it to treat insomnia and anxiety—a practice that’s still used today. Its medicinal effects can be compared to that of kava or valerian, though not as strong.
Native Americans used to apply fresh passiflora on boils and inflammation. An herbally infused drink made from its petals and leaves was taken for liver issues and as a blood tonic. Plants were taken back to Europe and soon became widely cultivated and used medicinally there as well.
When I first learned about purple passionflower, I read that smoking the leaves and flowers was another method to receive this beautiful plant’s medicinal benefits. I soon began mixing a bit of it into my herbal smoking blends, such as the following:
Sassy Woodland Nymph Herbal Smoke Blend (a tobacco alternative)
- 1 cup dried purple passionflower leaves and flowers
- 1 cup dried lemon balm
- 2/3 cup dried mullein leaf
- 1 tsp finely ground sassafras root bark
Mix all of the ingredients together, except mullein. Tear the mullein into smaller and smaller pieces, then “hand rub” or roll the tiny pieces a few times to break them down further. The mullein helps the herbal smoke blend to burn evenly. I especially enjoy this blend after a hard day’s work, it really helps the muscles and mind to relax.
Eating a Fresh Passionfruit
Towards the end of summer, you’ll begin to see little chicken egg-sized fruits growing along your vines. I’ve personally seen almost a dozen passionflower fruits on a single vine before. That said, I usually only find 3-6 fruits per vine.
Wait to harvest until the fruit skins begin to look and feel like a brown paper sack. Another way to tell it to give each fruit a gentle squeeze. If it dents and doesn’t pop back out, then your passionfruit is ready to harvest.
Peel the skin back or cut open the fruit with a knife. Inside, you’ll find lots of gelatinous covered seeds. The gelatinous part is where all the flavor is—not the seeds. Eating a passionflower could be compared to eating a pomegranate. You can crunch through the seeds or spit them out. (I usually just chew through them.)
Other Culinary Uses
Some folk will cook the fruit to make a tropical flavored sauce. You can also make passionflower wine, combine them into homemade fruit juices, or make preserves, jams, or jelly.
You can also add tender leaves into salads or steam them as you would a vegetable. Try making tea out of the leaves as well.
With delicious fruits, showy flowers, and magnificent medicinal properties, purple passionflower is a must-have in your home garden.