Sunday, July 7, 2013

Passion Flower - A Great Vine and Groundcover

     Mid summer is a wonderful time to enjoy picnics and fireworks as well as to enjoy the 'fireworks' of flowers both in your yard and in the wild.  One lovely native flower that celebrates the season is the Passion flower, Passiflora incarnata.  Also known as the Maypop, the Passion flower is a perennial vine with herbaceous shoots that grow out from a lengthy woody stem.
     This vine can cover a sizable area over time for an interesting ground cover.  When it reaches something it can climb, it will use axillary tendrils, a modified stem that grows out and coils around objects to allow the vine to climb and not fall.  As a ground cover, it reaches a couple of feet in height and over time will cover an area of about ten feet in diameter.  As a vine, it can climb to a height of as much as twenty five feet.  Leaves have three lobes and are a lovely shade of dark but bright green.  They are an average of three to six inches across and provide for a lovely texture addition to your garden.
     The plant is herbaceous but perennial.  Thus it will disappear in the winter, but return and increase, beginning to send out new shoots, in the early spring.  By mid June, it will be covered with exotic flowers that appear to be a fringe of purple hair surrounding and under a very unusual and somewhat raised combination of pistil and stamens.  Under this fringe of hair are ten purple to light pink 'petals' that are actually sepals.  Flowers close overnight and open by early afternoon.  This flower is the reason for the name.  The pistil and stamens together are said to represent the crucifixion of Christ otherwise known as the Passion.  The ten
sepals are said to represent the ten disciples, excluding Peter and Judas.  The five stamens represent the five wounds placed into Christ's body, and the knob shaped stigmas are said to resemble the nails.  The fringe of 'hair' is seen as the crown of thorns.
     Flowers produce a three to five inch egg shaped, green fruit.  Over time this will become more yellow and the outer skin will become dry and paper-like.  Inside are groupings of seeds surrounded by globs of sweet, sticky flesh.  These gooey morsels are edible and were used by native Americans for food.  They also used the flowers, leaves and stems as infusions and teas; they found them useful for their medicinal properties.  Passion flower is believed to provide relief from anxiety and sleep disorders, especially when combined with valerian and lemon balm.  The name Maypop comes from the popping sound that the fruit make when it is ripe and squeezed in order to open it.
     The Passion flower is native to most of the southeastern United States - ranging from Pennsylvania to Florida.  In the wild, it can be found in meadows and pastures and along the edges of woodlands and streams.  The plant prefers sun to partial shade and will tolerate almost any kind of soil from loams to sands and from moist to dry.  It will not tolerate saline conditions though.  The fruit is highly favored by a variety of birds and the plant attracts a number of butterfly species.
     If Passion flower should happen to favor you with its presence, you might consider finding a home for it.  I like to see it mixed with other native vines to create areas of bedded ground cover in place of massive areas of grass.  A good companion is the Virginia creeper.  No matter how you proposed to use it, Passion flower can be a welcome addition to your site.

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