Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Flower from Space

Jeff Cantrell from our sister Chert Glades Chapter in Joplin tells me that this time of year their phone starts ringing with questions like “I have a flower that looks like it is from outer space”.   I had several guesses but the answer "popped" into my head after Barb and I walked along the trail at Close Gardens tonight.

Whole, mitten and gloved leaves- VTech
The maypop, Passiflora incarnata, is also known as purple passionflower, typically blooms this time of year, spread along the ground with runners or climbing upward when it finds a willing host or fence.  It requires full sunlight and grows in disturbed soil along trails and roadsides.  The leaves, like sassafras, vary between whole to mitten or glove shape, but usually are 3-5 lobed.  There are two nectar glands at the base of each leaf's petiole.

Maypop fruit- Wikimedia
The fruit is 1.5 to 3 inches in diameter, starting green but turning yellow when ripe.  Its names come from some unique characteristics of the fruit and flower.  Early Christian missionaries in the 1600s saw these as a good omen for their mission.
"When Christian missionaries arrived in South America in the 16th century, they found a plant which they felt was a good omen for their mission. They called it the passion flower because to them it symbolized the death of Christ. The five sepals and five petals of the flower, which are similar in appearance, represent the disciples without Peter and Judas. The double row of colored filaments, known as the corona, signifies the halo around Christ's head or the crown of thorns. The five stamens and the three spreading styles with their flattened heads symbolize the wounds and the nails respectively. The vines tendrils resemble the whips used to scourge Christ. "
Developing flower head- Rkipfer

The passionflower family members are the exclusive larval host plants for the Gulf Fritillary and also a host plant for the Variegated Fritillary butterflies.  The fruit which is actually a berry was a favorite food of early colonial settlers in the south, following the example of Native Americans in the area.

The whole plant has been used in herbal medicines and a benzoflavone extract tested in mice has proven to be an effective antianxiety agent and aphrodisiac.  Just where there are mice in need of an aphrodisiac is unclear, but it isn't in our house or barn.  It also has been effective in treating mouse withdrawal symptoms in drug, alcohol and especially cannabis (the active ingredient in marijuana).  Substance abuse hasn't been a problem in Bull Creek mice, although their anxiety from Barb's trapping program may lead to one .

Kevin Firth reports the following: "Carpenter bees absolutely love passionflower and I have noticed that when they nectar at the flower, the three stigmas are in a perfect position--the back of the bee scrapes right along them as the bee nestles in to the center of the flower, which must facilitate pollination" Sounds like they were made for each other.

Video of a passionflower blooming is at


  1. Your last paragraph is beautiful! :-)

  2. I think some people think we naturalists are from outer space, but perhaps we just think everything "nature" from gumweed to nighthawks are stellar! Great article, a good read for us to refer folks to, thank you Bob. Enjoy this fantastic weather. - Jeff