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.