Gardeners' Dirt: Soften a fence or lattice with passion vine
By Jean Wofford - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Oct. 24, 2013 at 5:24 a.m.
I am looking out the window of my office at a beautiful, exotic flower. It makes me think of the jellyfish we used to see on the shoreline of the beach. I am looking at a passion flower on a very hardy vine.
A bit of history
In the 1600s, Spanish Jesuits formally presented a drawing of the passion flower to Pope Paul V. They also gave him the dried flowers. These beautiful flowers were discovered in Peru in the 1500s.
A scholar described the flower as one with five wounds. It is thought that this description was used as a teaching tool to try to convert the native Indians to Christianity. While a fair assumption, this is, of course, according to legend.
The passion flower was brought to Europe from South America during the 18th century and it was said this was just the beginning of a journey that would take the passion flower vine around the world. Passiflora was introduced to Europe principally by the Spanish, and can now be found in many parts of the world including Africa, Asia, Australia and North America.
Spanish priests in South America called it "Christ's Thorns." The German name was "Mother of God's Star." It is also known as maypops, wild passionflower and wild apricots and is the vine of the water lemon. In Tennessee, the Indians called it Ocoee, after the river and valley of the same name.
Passiflora incarnata is a hardy, common wildflower in the southern United States and the state wildflower of Tennessee. The bluish white maypop occurs naturally in thickets and riverbanks and near undisturbed grasses. It thrives in a lot of available sunlight.
Passion flower vines meander through supporting vegetation by means of coiled tendrils and have showy, fragrant flowers. Several produce edible fruits.
With a depth of historical symbolism, the passion flower remains today a symbol of Christ's passion and is in some churches in England. The stained-glass windows feature the passion flower as do some of the altar frontals.
So, this flower has significant religious meanings all the while being beautiful and fragrant. But, that is not the purpose of this article although it could be well worth looking up the information if it is of interest to you.
Growing passion flowers
All the history and symbolism aside, let me tell you about this plant with a vine that blooms an exotic flower.
My yard has a lot of fence line, and I like to use vines to soften the appearance of the wood. While I was looking in a local nursery, I saw a purple passion vine that was uniquely different. I planted it in full sun, beside an arbor. Within a couple of months, I had a vigorously growing vine and it started blooming - and continued to grow and bloom.
I brought a couple of the blooms into the house but they were soon disposed of. They have a delightful fragrance outdoors, but in the confines of the house, they are very cloying and sweet.
By the end of the summer, I had a very full plant that was just beautiful and full of blooms. I noticed butterflies really liked this vibrant plant so I knew I had a winner. I have later learned that the bluish white passion flower is one of the exclusive nectaring host plants to the Gulf fritillary butterfly.
I watched with interest as my passion flower vine died when we had a slight freeze, and I thought that was the end of it. To my delight when the soil warmed up in the spring, my passion vine was back. In fact, the more I searched to see what else was coming up, the more passion vines I saw.
I knew I had a self-sowing plant that could soon become a problem. However, that was easily solved because I just removed the small vines and shared them.
I soon had passion vines all over and decided to take some out to the ranch where they would either grow on their own, or not. To my delight and surprise again, I now have them growing on the fence around the house.
Other passion vines
My research says there are various other passion flower vines. I have the red one, which is much more manageable than the purple, but it is not fragrant and is a more simple bloom. The purple one is a very exotic bloom with a great fragrance; it bears a type of fruit and is very prolific. The red rarely reseeds.
I also have a green one that is much harder to see. It blends in with the leaves so it is not quite as outstanding in color as other varieties.
Try one or more of the passion flower vines on a wooden fence, trellis, lattice work or next to an arbor in bright sun - and leave it alone. You will be amazed at what nature brings to your setting through efforts of its own.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.