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Weed of the Month- Passionflower

Passionflower

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” 

                                    ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Passionflower

Passiflora incarnata

Have you ever noticed the extraordinary bloom of the Purple Passionflower, “Maypop,” or Passiflora incarnata? Many guests do a double-take when they see this plant for the first time. Honestly, it’s hard to believe this plant grows and thrives so readily—you’ll notice it on the sides of roads, in pastures, woody edges, etc.

As for the funny name: the Passionflower is thought to have originated in Florida where the plant flowers earlier in the season, typically in May, and the fruit, which ripens around late June, is often stepped on and “pops,” hence the name Maypop. Anyhow, they’re hard to miss:  the fruit resemble large green eggs, turning to yellow/orange when ripe. They start out hollow and eventually fill with seeds surrounded with a jelly-like substance.

A Passionflower with a Mexican

A Passionflower with a Mexican butterfly.

Another frequent question: is the fruit edible? After a bit of research, I can’t wait till these suckers ripen. Not only are they edible, but they’re wickedly good for you. This write-up comes to you from wisegeek.com: “As a home herbal remedy, Passiflora incarnata is used throughout the world to control anxiety and insomnia, lower blood pressure, and ease neuralgia. Recent scientific studies have also isolated several chemicals in the herb which may help fight cancer, Parkinson’s disease, leukemia, HIV, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).” Another good Herb Blurb states that, while Passionflower is native to the Americas, they are far more popular in Europe. Here at home, Americans often use Maypops for making jelly, Indians would traditionally cook the leaves in fat, while Europeans have instead harnessed the Maypops for pharmaceutical purposes—they use ‘em as the main ingredient in many herbal sedatives. (I know what I’m feeding my nieces/nephews the next time they come over… just joking.)   I’ve read the pulp-covered seeds are quite edible, as is the skin of the fruit. However, the rind is considerably more appetizing once cooked. Europeans will dry and grind the plant to steep into a tea. A sedative gum also exists!

Mexican butterfly caterpillar.

Mexican butterfly caterpillar.

Ecologically, the benefits of Passiflora incarnata are astounding! The plant acts as a larval host to The Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Longwing, Crimson-patch Longwing, Red-banded hairstreak, Julia butterfly, and the Mexican butterfly.

Please note: The ornamental blue passionflower, Passiflora caerulea—the one often purchased from nurseries—is not the same thing, and is considered non-edible!

I hope this answered a couple questions that have been posed to the grounds crew here at Crystal Bridges. Happy Gardening!

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