Plant Profile: Purple Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata

By Kalli Unthank and Hanna Feik

This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Biology students at Jacksonville University.

Figure 1. Corona of banded filaments on
P. incarnata
. Photo credit: Asit K. Ghosh.
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Violales
Family: Passifloraceae
Genus: Passiflora
Specific epithet: incarnata

The striking Passiflora incarnata (also called purple passionflower and maypop) is one of six native Passiflora species in Florida. Purple passionflower is a liana (a woody vine) that is found throughout the state, often in open and disturbed areas. This fast-growing vine is listed as an invasive elsewhere in the US because it spreads easily, growing from suckers at the roots.

Figure 2. Fritillary caterpillar noshing on
P. incarnata. Photo credit: Capital Gal
The fragrant flower is a vibrant purple with ten tepals, although some experts distinguish the sepals from the petals (Figure 1). Passionflowers have a unique structure called a corona, made of banded white and light-purple strands that serve as a nectar guide for pollinators such as butterflies and bees (Figure 1).

Passionflower is a host for gulf fritallary and zebra longwing butterfly larvae, which can often be seen gobbling up the vine's palmately lobed leaves (Figure 2). The fruit is an egg-sized yellow-green berry that is delicious to humans and animals alike (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Passionflower fruit.
Photo credit: Asit K. Ghosh.
- Fruit can be pulped to make a thirst-quenching drink.
- Leaves can be infused in tea to treat insomnia and soothe ruffled nerves or ground into a poultice to treat cuts and bruises.
- Roots have even been used to treat earaches!

Want to grow your own? Find a vendor near you on the Florida Association of Native Nurseries website.

-Judd, WS, Campbell, SC, Kellogg, EA, Stevens, PF, and Donoghue, ML. 2008. Plant systematics: A phylogenetic approach. Sinauer Associates, Inc. Massachusetts, USA.  
-Wunderlin, RP and Hansen, BF. 1998. Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida.


Anonymous said…
Nice article. I wish passionflower was invasive in my yard. There is never enough for all the fritillaries and once they have eaten all the leaves it doesn't put out any new growth until the following spring.

Hey there, So glad you're letting the caterpillars have at it. Are you in Florida or further north? You might want to supplement your passionflower supply via propagation when it leafs out again. Take 6"-8" cuttings in early spring, remove the lower leaves and dip the ends in a rooting hormone (Rootone, for example) before potting them up. You'll want to prevent female fritillaries from depositing their eggs (and subsequently hungry caterpillars) until your vines becomes established. A sunny, screened-in patio would work. Alternatively, you can put 3 or 4 stakes, spaced evenly, on the inside edge(s) of the pots, making sure that the stakes are taller then your plants. This will allow you to drape screen over them without damaging the plants.

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