Passionflower vines – marvelous natives


The native purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) has a complicated history in my garden. No two years, it seems, are identical and its behavior is wholly unpredictable. Passionflower vines are quite cold hardy (there are tropical versions, so be certain what you’re buying), but they sprout late enough in the spring that the gardener often questions their return. After a colder than average winter several years ago (colder than the new average, which is quite warm), the vine didn’t appear until July (as I recall), and with such a late start there were only a few blooms in late August.

In the years since, the passionflower has emerged more or less when expected, but the first stems to sprout have been several feet from the base of the plant. The root suckers are not unusual, but if they’re not removed the fast growing vine can make quite a tangled mess through neighboring shrubs. In any case, the stray sprouts are easily removed, though they grow back every several weeks.

This spring, the main stem of the passionflower didn’t emerge until after suckers had grown a foot long. They were removed, and growth started at the foot of the metal support I’ve provided for the vine, except that there were four or five stems rather than one. By the time they were eighteen inches tall, one stem was judged to be more sturdy than the others, and the rest were plucked out. Passionflowers grow quite quickly, and one main stem can be troubling enough to control without having to try to tame several others.

Unfortunately, in the following days the remaining vine began to wither, though I first suspected that the problem was due only to high temperatures and lack of water. I suppose that when I snatched the suckers the lone remaining stem was injured, so now there were none. No matter, in a few days several other stems emerged, so the process was repeated, though a bit more carefully.

With only a bit of rain in July (but plenty of heat) the vine jumped up through the metal tuteur and latched onto the cable that guides it along the roof line of the small summerhouse. I had plans to add another cable to route a branch of the vine along the other side of the structure, but I’ve fallen behind (as usual), so the vine’s tendrils have securely grabbed a hold onto the neighboring dwarf  cypress. There’s still hope that I’ll get around to adding the second cable, but it seems unlikely, so I’ll probably enjoy the blooms on this stray branch, and then cut it back so its vigorous growth doesn’t cause damage to the cypress.

All these complications have not thwarted the vine’s flowering. At  first there are only a few blooms, but now there are dozens of buds, and several open each day in seemingly random sequence along the vine. The flowers are quite magnificent, architectural masterpieces, and the gardener is determined to witness every flower. Bumblebees, in particular, are attracted to the flowers, and often they will linger for quite a time.

Last year the vine yielded one rounded fruit, a maypop (above). I was curious for a taste when it ripened, but it seemed hollow, and I could never determine when it was ripe. I suppose that I’ll try again this year, and perhaps there will be multiple fruits to sample at various times until I figure out when the eating’s best. 

This year I’ve planted two other passionflower vines. One, the native yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea, above), and the other a hybrid. The yellow is blooming now, but the hybrid has no buds so far. Both have similar tendrils to the purple passionflower, but their habits are more sprawling with the tendrils offering only minimal support. I’ve twisted both vines around and through their supports and still they veer off onto neighboring shrubs. Their growth is considerably less vigorous so that I’ve no fear that their foliage will smother the neighbors, so I’m resigned to letting them make their own way.

The flowers of the yellow passionflower are considerably smaller than the purple, perhaps the size of a quarter rather than four inches across. The purple is more colorful, with more variation, and with its size it makes a better show. But, rather than having more than one purple passionflower it makes sense (at least to me) to plant other varieties, and the yellow is still quite splendid.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. I love how you show us that it is more than possible to have a beautiful garden using native plants, all the more interesting because of the many critters that are attracted to share the space. I want to go out and get everything you describe – but of course I would need to know the growing conditions to see if my garden is suitable – so you might just sneak in a hint or two about that once in a while.

    1. Dave says:

      Don’t misunderstand. I find that my priorities have shifted somewhat over the years to value native plants more than I have in the past, but I crave interesting plants, native or not. Using native plants in a disturbed environment (a home landscape) can be challenging without considerable attention to recreation of a more natural habitat, but there are plenty of wonderful natives that fit into the garden without much thought at all. In recent years I’ve paid particular attention to using natives in areas of the rear garden that stay damp through much of the year, and here there are some excellent plants to choose from.

      The passionflower vines grow as vigorously as any weed, and I give them just about the same amount of care. As long as they have a bit of sun, they grow, and I think the more sun the better. The yellow passionflower is more shaded by larger trees and shrubs, but it’s getting enough light to flower, so it must be very forgiving of most circumstances. Both native passionflowers are in very dry ground, and they don’t seem to mind. The hybrid is in slightly damp soil and it’s also growing well, though it’s not flowering yet.

      Forgive me for not supplying more cultural information. I’m constantly concerned that I drone on too long.

      1. No need for concern there – thank you so much!

  2. I never even HEARD of (or saw) any type of passiflora before moving to FL. This year, I received 2 different passalong plants. One is a passiflora cincinnatta..the other is unknown because it has not bloomed, despite looking healthy and growing vigorously. I hope next year I can see at least a flower or two so I might determine its variety..All I can say for certain is that it is 3 lobed!

    1. Dave says:

      I’m afraid that I’m adding passionflower vines to my addictions. The small flowered types are not quite so vigorous that they overwhelm nearby shrubs. Instead, they wind discretely through the branches of nearby hollies and edgeworthia, to appear only when in flower. There are at least four or five cold hardy passionflowers that I haven’t tried yet, and several others that are marginally cold hardy. If I plant two or three each year I’ll have one of each in several years.

      1. 🙂 You definitely think like me! I tend to collect that way, too!
        in which zone are you gardening? I’ve read probably 7-10 posts on your blog but just realized I’m uncertain where you’re located!

    2. Dave says:

      My garden is in northwest Virginia, in the foothills just to the east of the Blue Ridge mountains. The climate zone is 7A, warm enough for many southern plants and cold enough for more northern plants like Japanese maples to perform well.

      1. I lived in Fairfax for 5 years and your gardens look VERY much like what grew in my old neighborhood. Now I know why!
        A good friend from my time there moved further out (Warrenton,) and the last time I visited her we drove west to Harper’s Ferry for a weekend…gorgeous countryside, Virginia!

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