Colorful, fanciful Passiflora incarnata grows wild through much of the southern parts of the United States, but can be cultivated on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Gardeners either consider the purple-flowering vine an ornamental, medicinal and culinary delight or a pernicious weed, depending on its vigor and their own point of view. Certainly few plants make a bolder statement on a garden trellis than passiflora, with its fringed purple blossoms, lush foliage and large yellow fruits.
Aliases and Legends
Passiflora incarnata also goes by Maypop, passionflower and purple passionflower and apricot vine. The Latin name means "flesh colored passion flower." The "passion" in the name refers to the Jesus' crucifixion. Legend has it that the ten petals symbolize His disciples, the corona and pistil stigmas His crown of thorns and the nails, and the five sepals the wounds He received. More prosaically, "Maypop" simply refers to the time of year the vine fruits, and the sound it makes if you step on it!
The passiflora vine, whether creeping on the ground or climbing a trellis or tree, reaches about 25 feet. If climbing, it uses tendrils. The showy, purple blossoms have 10 petals which are overlaid by dozens of wavy strands, which give a fringed affect to the flower. The center of the plant sports a double ring, in which the large, flesh-colored pistils reside. The fruit, about the size of an avocado, is a large, yellowish berry with fleshy, edible pulp. The vines leaves are three-lobes, dark green on top with white undersides.
Garden author Toby Hemenway spotlights Passiflora incarnate as one of four multipurpose plants he uses extensively in his landscaping. The many ways Maypops contribute to the household include their edible fruit (useful for fresh eating as well as preserves and juices), edible shoots for salads or cooking, the shade-providing foliage, and the ornamental blossoms, which also attract butterflies and bees.
The vine's leaves, stem and flowers all contain therapeutic properties, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. A tea made any or all of the above-ground parts of the passiflora vine may be useful for treating insomnia and stress. Check with a physician to ensure that the tea won't interact with any medications, and avoid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Otherwise, make a tea by using one teaspoon of the dried herb for every one cup of boiling water. Steep the passiflora herb for 10 minutes before straining the plant material and allowing the tea to cool slightly. The University of Maryland suggests having a cup before bedtime to treat insomnia, and three to four cups a day for general nervousness.
Maypops grow in sun or part shade. Hardy to at least zero degrees, the vine needs little water or fertilizer, reflecting its heritage as a native wildflower. Hemenway recommends growing Maypops on patio trellis to provide shade on the patio as well as natural cooling inside the house. It will also grow trees and shrubs, helping beautify unattractive trunks or non-showy foliage. In cold climates the passiflora dies back to about a foot above the ground, but regrows each spring. In warm climates, where spreading can be a problem, be vigilant about pulling out any shoots which may appear as far as 15 feet from the mother plant.