Passiflora incarnata is one of the hardiest species of passionflower, it is a common wildflower in the Southeastern United States. The Cherokee in the Tennessee area called it ocoee; the Ocoee River and valley are named after this plant. The
Fairegarden is quite near the Ocoee River and we have visited there many times, admiring the white water courses and visitors center built there during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Click here to find out more about that.
The flowers are intricate with prominent styles and stamens. The plants were given the name Passionflower or Passion vine because the floral parts were once said to represent aspects of the Christian crucifixion story, sometimes referred to as the Passion. The 10 petal-like parts represent Jesus’ disciples, excluding Peter and Judas; the 5 stamens the wounds Jesus received; the knob-like stigmas the nails; the fringe the crown of thorns.
The fruit is attractive and has many medicinal qualities. I never recommend playing doctor in the garden and this is no different, but I have tasted the innards and they were yucky. It was a spitter, as we like to say. Passiflora incarnata is not to be confused with another species that goes by the name of passion fruit, Passiflora edulis that is said to be tasty.
Passiflora incarnata likes full sun for best flowering, but will grow in part shade. It is quite drought tolerant but will produce more blooms with adequate water. It can be a rambunctious grower with vines up to 25 ft in a season, here more like 8-10 feet in length. It is winter hardy in USDA Zones 5 or 6 to 9, but freezes back to the ground here. It is pollinated by bumble and carpenter bees, among others. While I was photographing the first flower of the season, a pair of carpenter bees flew right under my elbow to begin feasting, oblivious to my camera and me.
Several vines of the late to emerge Passiflora incarnata show up here every year. Many are pulled for we learned the hard way that allowing them all to live was an invitation for world domination. The flowers are lovely, but the ratio of greenery to blooms is heavily weighted towards the leaf department. This particular plant has been allowed to grow in the smack dab middle of the gravel path that runs along the Azalea Walk for one reason.
As with other passifloras, it is the larval food of a number of butterfly species, including the Gulf Fritillary, (shown above), Zebra Longwing, Crimson-patch longwing, Red-banded hairstreak, Julia butterfly and Mexican butterfly. Passiflora incarnata can be a bit aggressive, but it has been a welcome wildflower, already growing here when we bought the property. For other wildflower postings, be sure and check out my dear friend Gail of Clay and Limestone’s Wildflower Wednesday on the fourth Wednesday of each month.