The passion flower genus (Passiflora spp.) boasts more than 500 species of vigorous flowering vines commonly cultivated in home gardens for their flashy, complex flowers and attractive fruits. The passion flower is indispensable to butterfly gardens thanks to its ability to attract zebra longwings, fritillaries and the bright-orange Julia butterfly.
Passiflora is Latin for "passion flower," a name that Spanish missionaries, working in South America in the 16th century, gave the plant. Some missionaries used the flower's elaborate structure to teach about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The corona on the top of the flower symbolized the crown of thorns, while the five anthers represented the five wounds. The protruding styles represented the three nails, while the petals and sepals represented the apostles. The dark spots on the underside of the leaves symbolized the silver that Judas was paid to betray Jesus.
Most passion flower vines hail from the tropics of Mexico, Central and South America. Some species, such as the may pop passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), are native to North America and can be found in the eastern and southern United States. The maypop can be found growing along roadsides, old fields and other places with dry soil. In Florida, the vine can often be found in citrus groves. The plant also grows in Bermuda.
Many passion flower vines offer edible fruits. Also known as hardy passion flower, blue passion flower (Passiflora caerulea) produces egg-shaped orange fruits with a flavor reminiscent of blackberries. Though the fruits aren't tasty raw, the fruits may be baked in pies and other treats as a substitute for blackberries. The cultivar Constance Elliott offers exceptionally bright orange fruits in addition to fragrant flowers. The maypop and the red passion flower (Passiflora racemosa) also produce edible greenish-yellow fruits.
Members of the passion flower genus provide larval food to more than 70 species of subtropical and tropical butterflies. Female butterflies seek out passion flower vines from far distances in order to lay their eggs on the plant. Many types of Heliconian butterflies feed exclusively on passion flower vines, ignoring all other types of plants. An excess of caterpillars may become a nuisance, though they can also help to prune the plant and keep it from growing out of control.
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