Monday, September 3, 2012

Purple Passion Flower

If you want to get Barb excited, let her find a new or unexpected wildflower.  She yelled "stop" as we were driving along the field edge in an area cleared by the cleanup of a fallen tree last winter.  It was a big cluster of purple passion flowers.  The flower is so distinctive that even I can identify it now.

The passion flower plant is said to have medicinal properties discussed below, but the "passion" isn't what you might be thinking.  When the Spanish discovered this flower in Peru in 1569, the Friars saw symbols of Christ's Passion in the blossom, the source of its common name.  They took this as a positive sign that they had his blessing on their mission.  The interpretations of these complex symbols are described here,

Purple passion flower, Passiflora incarnata, is a flowering vine which spreads along the ground until it finds a convenient shrub or tree to climb.  As the vines sprawl along the ground they develop root suckers, (rhizomes), increasing their local spread.  This means that all the plants within this space are most likely genetically identical.  In gardens, they can tend to take over but they have a lot more competition in our valley.

The leaves are distinctive, all with three fingers similar to some sassafras leaves but with deeper indentations.  They are far more numerous than the scattered flowers.  The leaves serve as the larval food source for the Variegated Fritillary and its southern cousin, the Gulf Fritillary which arrives in late summer.

Passiflora produces a very distinctive fruit, called a Maypop, although why "May" escapes me as it fruits in late summer.  It is also called a wild apricot or apricot vine.  It produces a large green berry that turns orange, providing a good food source for wildlife.  It can be eaten raw and was eaten by Native Americans.  Passion flower seeds have been found in some thousands of years old archeological sites.  No less than John Muir called it "the most delicious fruit I have ever eaten."  Ours are just starting to form, probably quite a struggle in the midst of the drought.

Fruits are forming
The plant, fresh or dried has been used to treat anxiety and narcotic withdrawal.  There are a lot of ongoing studies to determine its effectiveness in these and a variety of other disorders.  These are summarized on the National Institutes of Health web site.

More pictures are at

1 comment:

  1. According to Don Kurz in his book "Ozark Wildflowers", passion flower is "also known as Maypops," which comes from.children in the South stomping on the fruit to make it pop" (Page 209).