The passion flower, Passiflora incarnata, originated in South America and was found to be a calming herb. The flower was discovered by missionaries in the 1500s who thought the flower resembled a biblical crown of thorns. The name is a reference to the Christian story of Jesus, often referred to as Passion of Christ, in which he wore a crown of thorns at crucifixion. Under proper growing conditions, the plant is a fast-growing vine that may become invasive in some areas.
Passion flower plants are commonly referred to as maypops. The plant is a perennial vine that has a woody stem producing a flower that is 3 inches in diameter with white petals and purple sepals. The vine will reach a length up to 32 feet. Passion flower plants produce a berry that is egg-shaped and edible in some varieties.
Passion flower plants grow in zones 5-9, but they will not tolerate severe cold. The lower zones must mulch heavily in the winter months to protect the plant. Frost kills off the top growth of the plant, but it will grow back in the spring. The plants need partial- to full-sun conditions and prefer a sandy, slightly acid and well-drained soil. The soil should be kept moist during the growing season to produce the best conditions for flowering. Watering requirements depend on the monthly average rainfall for the area. If the rainfall is less than 1 inch per month, it needs water every other day if the soil becomes dry. Passion flower plants in a pot should be watered when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil is dry. Potted plants should be set in water to allow the plant to pull in the proper amount of moisture.
Passion fruit plants should be planted in early spring for best results. Plants should be started indoors with either seeds or from softwood cuttings. Softwood cuttings take up to three months to start root growth. Seeds are taken from the fruit of the plant. Seeds should soak for 12 hours prior to planting indoors in early spring. The plants should grow indoors for one year before they are transplanted outdoors. Passion flower plants should be kept in a sunny location indoors, but not in direct bright sun. When planting outdoors, compost should be added to the hole before the plant is added. Fertilizer should be applied at planting, then again six to eight weeks later.
Insects and Diseases
The passion flower plant attracts insects, making it susceptible to infestation from spider mites, scale insects and white flies. Insect invasions can be treated with an insecticidal soap or other insecticide. Neem oil treatment will also deflect white flies. Treatments should be applied to the soil area where eggs are laid to fully eliminate the infestation. It is possible to get leaf spots and iron deficiency in passion flower plants. Leaf spot cannot be treated once it sets into the plant. The best control is to destroy all sections of the plant. Iron deficiency pulls chlorophyll out of the plants and is treated with sulfur to acidify the soil.
The passion flower is considered an herb that has a tranquilizing effect. According to altnature.com, the flower is used to treat anxiety, insomnia and other nervous disorders. The flower has been found to treat back pain by depressing motor nerves in the spinal cord. Passion flower contains flavonoids and alkaloids, which have a sedating effect without being addictive or causing the drowsiness associated with chemical sedatives. Use of the passion flower as an herb is not recommended for pregnant women or young children.