PERRENIAL OF THE WEEK: Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

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Purple passionflower goes by several common names including true passionflower, wild passionflower, and wild passion vine as well as maypop and wild apricot which refer to the fruit.  This fast growing native perennial climbing/trailing vine sports two key features that should entice Ohio gardeners and landscape designers:  it produces beautifully complex eye-catching flowers that are 2 - 3" wide and it produces edible fruit.

 

Purple Passionflower with Bumble Bee

 

The unusual looking flowers are highly attractive to pollinators.  Indeed, the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) shown in this image was so impatient, it kept flying to the flower even while I was handling it to take pictures!  The flowers mature into edible fruits (maypops) about the size of a chicken egg that are prized for use in jams or jellies. I didn't know it until I saw this plant yesterday in a naturalized area in Glenwood Gardens (Great Parks of Hamilton County), but this is my new favorite perennial plant.  With its food value and strong attraction to insects, what's not to love?  

 

Purple Passionflower

 

The scientific name for the genus and some of the common names refers to the passion of Christ in the intricate design of the flower.  The large, serrated, dark green deeply lobed (3 - 5 lobs) leaves may measure 5 - 6" in length and width.  They are arranged alternately on the stem with flowers and branches arising from the leaf axils.  Tendrils attach the vines to other plants or support structures allowing plants to rise to heights of 10 - 20 ft.  Plants dieback during the winter but re-emerge in the spring from underground rhizomes.

 

Plants will do well in full sun or partial shade and in well-drained, dry to medium dry soils; however, it will tolerate drought.  There are over 400 hundred species in the genus Passiflora with the vast majority being tropical vines.  However, P. incarnata can survive winter freezes and is listed as growing in USDA zones 6 - 9.  Still, it a good idea to plant this species in sites that provide some protection against deep freezes; it is particularly important to protect the underground rhizomes.  Plants or seed may be purchased from several sources particularly vendors dealing with native plants or edible plants.