by Shirley Smith, Somervell County Master Gardener
Purple passion vine to me conjures up visions of exotic places, a rain forest perhaps or the sounds of the rolling surf. But, thankfully, this beautiful plant resides in my side yard, and it’s extremely happy to be here.
The purple fashion-flower is an herbaceous vine growing up to 25 feet long and clings by way of axillary tendrils or sprawls along the ground. It has intricate, 3” lavender flowers on a short stalk. One common name is Maypop, which comes from the hollow, yellow fruits that “pop” loudly when crushed. This unusual flower is distributed widely from Florida to Texas. The plants were given the name Passionflower or Passion vine because the floral parts are said to represent aspects of the Christian crucifixion story, sometimes referred to as the Passion. The 10 petal-like parts represent disciples of Jesus, excluding Peter and Judas; the 5 stamens the wounds Jesus received; the knob-like stigmas the nails used to hang Him on the cross; the fringe the crown of thorns.
My Passion vine is the host plant for the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. And, oh my, do they love this plant! This year seems to have been a particularly good year for the GF butterfly. They (the butterflies) did not arrive until my Passion vine had really grown to a good size. And when the GF got here, the females began at once to alight, touch their abdomens to a leaf and deposit a very tiny, yellow egg. After a few days, the eggs began to hatch and the tiny ½” long caterpillar emerged. And it was ravenous! Because my Passion vine was so well established, all the hungry babies did not seem to phase it. It grew faster than the GF caterpillars could eat it! The vine is blooming now and the flowers are beautiful!
Not only is this plant the host to several other buttlerflies (Zebra Longwing, Crimson-patch Longwing, Red-banded Hairstreak, Julia Butterfly, Mexican Butterfly), but the American Indians consumed the fruit. The Indians would poultice the roots for boils, cuts, earaches and inflammation. A tea was brewed to sooth nerves and treat insomnia.
My plant dies back to the ground each winter. This year, I had mulched it heavily so when those two freezes hit it was not harmed. Can’t beat a good layer of mulch (think very warm blanket) for protecting plants during the winter as well as conserving moisture during our hot, dry summers.
The Purple passion plant may be propagated by seeds or cuttings. I have had success in just digging up a piece that comes up where I don’t want it, burying it in the ground and then keeping it well watered for the next couple of weeks. To have such delicate flowers, this plant is very hardy for our climate. My plant is growing on a two-rail split rail fence in full sun. I have had to add additional string for it to climb on.
So, if you have a chance (and a place) to grow this plant, don’t hesitate. You will not be disappointed.
Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Internet) (Native Plant Database)