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Passion flower


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The passion flowers or passion vines (Passiflora) are a genus of about 500 species of flowering plants, the namesakes of the family Passifloraceae. They are mostly vines, with some being shrubs, and a few species being herbaceous. For information about the fruit of the passiflora plant, see passionfruit. The monotypic genus Hollrungia seems to be inseparable from Passiflora, but further study is needed.


The family Passifloraceae is found worldwide except in Antarctica, and Passiflora is absent from Africa though many other members of the family Passifloraceae exist there (e.g. the more plesiomorphic Adenia).

Nine species of Passiflora are native to the USA, found from Ohio to the north, west to California and south to the Florida Keys. Most (seventeen) other species are found in South America, China, and Southern Asia, New Guinea, four or more speciesin Australia and a single endemic species in New Zealand. New species continue to be identified: for example, P. pardifolia and P. xishuangbannaensis have only been known to the scientific community since 2006 and 2005, respectively.

Species of Passiflora have been naturalised beyond their native ranges. For example, Blue Passion Flower (P. caerulea) now grows wild in Spain.Dana et al. [2001] The purple passionfruit (P. edulis) and its yellow relative flavicarpa have been introduced in many tropical regions as commercial crops.


The decorative passion flowers have a unique flower structure, which in most cases requires a large bee to effectively pollinate. In the American tropics, wooden beams are mounted very near passionfruit plantings to encourage carpenter bees to nest. The size and structure of flowers of other Passiflora species is optimized for pollination by hummingbirds (especially hermits like Phaethornis) , bumble bees, wasps or bats, while yet others are self-pollinating. The Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) with its immensely elongated bill has co-evolved with certain passion flowers, such as P. mixta.

Yellow Passion Flower (P. lutea) pollen is apparently the only pollen eaten by the unusual bee Anthemurgus passiflorae. However, these bees simply collect the pollen, but do not pollinate the flowers.

Passiflora species are important sources of nectar for many insects. The leaves are used as food plants by the larva of the swift moth Cibyra serta and many longwing butterflies (Heliconiinae). Well-known species among the latter are the American Sara Longwing (Heliconius sara) and the Asian Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane). The caterpillars of the Postman Butterfly (Heliconius melpomene) prefer P. menispermifolia and P. oerstedii when available; those of the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) feed on Yellow Passion Flower, Two-flowered Passion Flower (P. biflora), and Corky-stemmed Passion Flower (P. suberosa). Those of the Banded Orange (Dryadula phaetusa) are found on P. tetrastylis, those of the Julia Butterfly (Dryas iulia) on Yellow Passion Flower and P. affinis, and those of the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) on Yellow Passion Flower, Stinking Passion Flower (P. foetida) and Maypop (P. incarnata).

To prevent the butterflies from laying too many eggs on any single plant, some passion flowers bear small colored nubs which resemble the butterflies' eggs and seem to fool them into believing that more eggs have already been deposited on a plant than actually is the case. Also, many Passiflora species produce sweet nutrient-rich liquid from glands on their leaf stems. These fluids attract ants which will kill and eat many pests that they happen to find feeding on the passion flowers.

The bracts of the Stinking Passion Flower are covered by hairs which exude a sticky fluid. Many small insects get stuck to this and get digested to nutrient-rich goo by proteases and acid phosphatases. Since the insects usually killed are rarely major pests, this passion flower seems to be a protocarnivorous plant.Radhamani et al. (1995)

Banana Passion Flower or "banana poka" (P. tarminiana), originally from Central Brazil, is an invasive weed, especially on the islands of Hawaii. It is commonly spread by feral pigs eating the fruits. It overgrows and smothers stands of endemic vegetation, mainly on roadsides. Blue Passion Flower (P. caerulea) is holding its own in Spain these days, and it probably needs to be watched so that unwanted spreading can be curtailed.

On the other hand, some species are endangered due to unsustainable logging and other forms of habitat destruction. For example, the Chilean Passion Flower (P. pinnatistipula) is a rare vine growing in the Andes from Venezuela to Chile between 2,500 and 3,800 meters altitude, and in Coastal Central Chile, where it occurs in woody Chilean Mediterranean forests. P. pinnatistipula has a round fruit, unusual in Tacsonia group species like Banana Passion Flower and P. mixta, with their elongated tubes and brightly red to rose-colored petals.

Notable and sometimes economically significant pathogens of Passiflora are several sac fungi of the genus Septoria (including S. passiflorae), the undescribed proteobacterium called "Pseudomonas tomato" (pv. passiflorae), the South African passiflora virus and the carlavirus Passiflora latent virus.

Use by humans

Hundreds of hybrids have been named and hybridizing is currently being done extensively for flowers, foliage and fruit.

A number of species of Passiflora are cultivated outside their natural range because of their beautiful flowers.

During Victorian times the flower (which in all but a few species lasts only one day) was very popular and many hybrids were created using Winged-stem Passion Flower (P. alata) and Blue Passion Flower (P. caerulea) and other tropical species.

Many cool-growing Passiflora from the Andes Mountains can be grown successfully for their beautiful flowers and fruit in cooler Mediterranean climates, such as the Monterey Bay and San Francisco in California and along the Western Coast of the U.S. into Canada. One Blue Passion Flower or hybrid even grew to large size at Malmo Central Station in Sweden.

Passion flowers have been a subject of studies investigating extranuclear inheritance; paternal inheritance of chloroplast DNA has been documented in this genus.E.g. Hansen et al. (2006) The plastome of the Two-flowered Passion Flower (P. biflora) has been sequenced.

The French name for this plant has lent itself to La Famille Passiflore, a highly successful children's book series by Genevieve Huriet, and an animated series based upon it. These have been translated into English as Beechwood Bunny Tales and The Bellflower Bunnies, respectively.


Most species have round or elongated edible fruit from two to eight inches long and an inch to two inches across, depending upon the species or cultivar.

The passion fruit or maracuja (P. edulis) is cultivated extensively in the Caribbean and south Florida and South Africa for its fruit, which is used as a source of juice. A small purple fruit which wrinkles easily and a larger shiny yellow to orange fruit are traded under this name. The latter is usually considered just a variety flavicarpa, but seems to be more distinct in fact.

Sweet Granadilla (P. ligularis) is another widely-grown species. In large parts of Africa and Australia it is the plant called "passionfruit": confusingly, in South African English its is the latter species that is called "granadilla" (without an adjective) more often than not. Its fruit is somewhat intermediate beteween the two sold as P. edulis.

Maypop (P. incarnata), a common species in the southeastern US. This is a subtropical representative of this mostly tropical family. However, unlike the more tropical cousins, this particular species is hardy enough to withstand the cold down to -4F (-20C) before its roots die (it is native as far north as Pennsylvania and has been cultivated as far north as Boston and Chicago.) The fruit is sweet, yellowish, and roughly the size of a chicken's egg; it enjoys some popularity as a native plant with edible fruit and few pests.

Giant Granadilla ,

Water Lemon (P. laurifolia) and Sweet Calabash (P. maliformis) are Passiflora species locally famed for their fruit, but not widely known elsewhere yet. Wild Maracuja are the fruit of P. foetida, which are popular in Southeast Asia. Banana passionfruits are the very elongated fruits of P. tripartita var. mollissima and P. tarminiana. These are locally eaten, but its invasive properties make it hardly worthwhile to grow at least the latter species on purpose.

Medical and entheogenic uses

Passion flower is considered a calming herb in folk medicine, and is taken as a sleep-aiding tea before bed. At least one clinical trial has found it to lower anxiety. It contains many potent chemicals, and thus must be used with care, as interaction with certain drugs can produce unexpectedly strong effects. Also, due to the taxonomic diversity of Passiflora being severely understudied (only about 1% of all passion flower species have been analysed in some detail), it cannot be assumed that all members of this genus produce the same effects, or in similar dosages.

P. incarnata (maypop) leaves and roots have a long history of use among Native Americans in North America and were adapted by the European colonists. The fresh or dried leaves of maypop are used to make a tea that is used to treat insomnia, hysteria, and epilepsy, and is also valued for its analgesic properties. P. edulis (passion fruit) and a few other species are used in Central and South America for similar purposes. Once dried, the leaves can also be smoked.

Many species have been found to contain beta-carboline harmala alkaloids.Drugs.com (2008) which are MAO inhibitors with anti-depressant properties. The flower and fruit have only traces of these chemicals, but the leaves and the roots are often more potent and have been used to enhance the effects of mind-altering drugs. The most common of these alkaloids is harman (1-methyl-9H-b-carboline), but harmaline , harmalol , harmine and harmol were found. The species known to bear such alkaloids include: P. actinea, P. alata (winged-stem passion flower), P. alba, P. bryonoides (cupped passion flower), P. caerulea (blue passion flower), P. capsularis, P. decaisneana, P. edulis (passion fruit), P. eichleriana, P. foetida (stinking passion flower), P. incarnata (maypop), P. quadrangularis (giant granadilla), P. ruberosa, P. subpeltata and P. warmingii

Other compounds found in passion flowers are coumarins (e.g. scopoletin and umbelliferone), maltol, phytosterols (e.g. lutenin) and cyanogenic glycosides (e.g. gynocardin) which render some species, i.e. P. adenopoda, somewhat poisonous. Many flavonoids and their glycosides have been found in Passiflora, including apigenin, benzoflavone, homoorientin, 7-isoorientin, isoshaftoside, isovitexin (or saponaretin), kaempferol, lucenin, luteolin, n-orientin, passiflorine (named after the genus), quercetin, rutin, saponarin, shaftoside, vicenin and vitexin. Maypop, Blue Passion Flower (P. caerulea), and perhaps others contain chrysin, a flavone with confirmed anxiolytic and anti-inflammatory, supposed aromatase inhibitor properties. Also documented to occur at least in some Passiflora in quantity are the hydrocarbon nonacosane and the anthocyanidin pelargonidin-3-diglycoside.Dhawan, et al. (2002)

As regards organic acids, the genus is rich in formic, butyric, linoleic, linolenic, malic, myristic, oleic and palmitic acids as well as phenolic compounds, and the amino acid a-alanine. Esters like ethyl butyrate, ethyl caproate, n-hexyl butyrate and n-hexyl caproate give the fruits their flavor and appetizing smell. Sugars, contained mainly in the fruit, are most significantly d-fructose, d-glucose and raffinose. Among enzymes, Passiflora was found to be rich in catalase, pectin methylesterase and phenolase.

The medical utility of very few species of Passiflora has been scientifically studied. In initial trials for treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, maypop extract performed as well as oxazepam but with fewer short-term side effects. It was recommended to follow up with long-term studies.Akhondzadeh, et al. (2001)

Side effects

One study on mice showed that Passiflora alata has a genotoxic (DNA-damaging) effect on cells.

Etymology and names

Popularly, passion flowers and especially passion fruit are frequently used with sexual or romantic innuendo, giving rise to such uses as a one-time soft drink named Purple Passion. The "Passion" in "passion flower" does not refer to sex and love, however, but to the passion of Jesus in Christian theology. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion:

The pointed tips of the leaves were taken to represent the Holy Lance.

The tendrils represent the whips used in the flagellation of Christ.

The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (less St. Peter the denier and Judas Iscariot the betrayer).

The flower's radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns.

The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents a hammer or the Holy Grail

The 3 stigmata represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds (four by the nails and one by the lance).

The blue and white colors of many species' flowers represent Heaven and Purity.

The flower has been given names related to this symbolism throughout Europe since that time. In Spain, it is known as espina de Cristo ("Christ's thorn"). German names include Christus-Krone ("Christ's crown"), Christus-Strauss ("Christ's bouquet"), Dorn-Krone ("crown of thorns"), Jesus-Leiden ("Jesus' passion"), Marter ("passion") or Muttergottes-Stern ("Mother of God's star"Muttergottes-Schuzchen (or -Schurzchen) is a nonsensical misreading of Marzell (1927)).

Outside the Christian heartland, the regularly-shaped flowers have reminded people of the face of a clock; in Israel they are known as "clock-flower" , and in Japan they are called tokeiso . In Hawaiian, they are called lilikoi; li is a string used for tying fabric together, such as a shoelace, and liko means "to spring forth leaves".Pukui et al. (1992)

In India, blue passionflowers are called Krishnakamala in Karnataka and Maharashtra, while in UP and generally north it is colloquially called "Paanch Paandav". The flower's structure lends itself to the interpretation along the lines of five Pandavas, the Divine Krshna at centre, and the opposing hundred at the edges. The colour blue is moreover associated with Krschna or Krshna as colour of his aura.

In northern Peru and Bolivia, the banana passionfruits are known as tumbos. This is one possible source of the name of the Tumbes region of Peru.

Selected species

Passiflora actinia

Passiflora adenopoda DC.

Passiflora affinis

Passiflora alata – winged-stem passion flower, ouvaca

Passiflora alba

Passiflora amethystina J.C.Mikan

Passiflora ampullacea

Passiflora andina

Passiflora anfracta

Passiflora antioquiensis

Passiflora arbelaezii L.Uribe

Passiflora arborea Spreng.

Passiflora aurantia G.Forst.

Passiflora auriculata Kunth

Passiflora biflora Lam. – two-flowered passion flower

Passiflora brachyantha

Passiflora bryonioides – cupped passion flower

Passiflora caerulea – blue passion flower, common passion flower

Passiflora capsularis L.

Passiflora cincinnata Masters

Passiflora cinnabarina

Passiflora citrina J. M. MacDougal – lemon-yellow passion flower

Passiflora coccinea Aubl.

Passiflora coriacea Juss.

Passiflora cuneata Willd.

Passiflora cuspidifolia Harms

Passiflora decaisneana

Passiflora deidamioides Harms

Passiflora deltoifolia

Passiflora digitata L.

Passiflora discophora

Passiflora edmundoi Sacco

Passiflora edulis – passion fruit, maracuja, parcha (Puerto Rico), wal dodam (Sinhalese)

Passiflora eggersii

Passiflora eichleriana

Passiflora foetida – stinking passion flower, foetid passion flower, wild maracuja, running pop

Passiflora gardneri Masters

Passiflora gibertii N. E. Br.

Passiflora glandulosa Cav.

Passiflora haematostigma Mast.

Passiflora hahnii

Passiflora harlingii

Passiflora herbertiana – native passionfruit

Passiflora hirtiflora

Passiflora holosericea L.

Passiflora hyacinthiflora Planch. & Linden

Passiflora incarnata – maypop, purple passion flower, ocoee (Cherokee)

Passiflora indecora

Passiflora jamesonii

Passiflora jatunsachensis

Passiflora jorullensis Kunth.

Passiflora kermesina

Passiflora laurifolia L. – water lemon, Jamaican honeysuckle

Passiflora ligularis – sweet granadilla

Passiflora linda

Passiflora loefgrenii Vitta

Passiflora loxensis

Passiflora lutea – yellow passion flower

Passiflora luzmarina

Passiflora macdougaliana

Passiflora macrophylla Spruce ex Mast.

Passiflora maliformis L. – sweet calabash

Passiflora manicata (Juss.) Pers.

Passiflora menispermifolia

Passiflora miersii

Passiflora mixta

Passiflora monadelpha

Passiflora montana

Passiflora morifolia Mast.

Passiflora murucuja L.

Passiflora oerstedii

Passiflora odontophylla Harms ex Glaz.

Passiflora organensis Gardner

Passiflora palenquensis

Passiflora pardifolia Vanderpl.

Passiflora pergrandis

Passiflora picturata Ker Gawl.

Passiflora pinnatistipula – Chilean passion flower

Passiflora pohlii Mast.

Passiflora punctata L.

Passiflora quadrangularis – giant granadilla, giant tumbo, badea

Passiflora racemosa Brot.

Passiflora reflexiflora

Passiflora rhamnifolia Mast.

Passiflora roseorum

Passiflora ruberosa

Passiflora rubra L.

Passiflora sanctae-barbarae

Passiflora sanguinolenta Mast.

Passiflora seemannii

Passiflora serratifolia L.

Passiflora serratodigitata L.

Passiflora smilacifolia

Passiflora sodiroi

Passiflora speciosa Gardner

Passiflora sprucei

Passiflora suberosa L. – corky-stemmed passion flower

Passiflora subpeltata Ortega

Passiflora subpurpurea

Passiflora tarminiana – banana passion flower, , curuba India, curuba ecuatoriana, banana poka (Hawaii), curuba quitena (Colombia), tacso amarillo (Ecuador)

Passiflora telesiphe

Passiflora tenuifila Killip.

Passiflora tetrastylis

Passiflora trinervia (Juss.) Poir

Passiflora tripartita

* Passiflora tripartita var. mollissima

Passiflora trochlearis

Passiflora tulae Urb.

Passiflora umbilicata (Griseb.) Harms

Passiflora urbaniana

Passiflora vellozii Gardner

Passiflora vitifolia

Passiflora warmingii

Passiflora xishuangbannaensis

Passiflora yucatanensis Killip

Passiflora zamorana

Horticultural hybrids:

Passiflora belotii

Passiflora decaisneana

Passiflora kewensis

Passiflora violacea


(2001): Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics 26(5): 363-367. PDF fulltext

[2001]: Plant Invaders in Spain Check-List. PDF fulltext

(2002): Beneficial Effects of Chrysin and Benzoflavone on Virility in 2-Year-Old Male Rats. Journal of Medicinal Food 5(1): 43-48. (HTML abstract)

[2008]: Passion Flower. Retrieved 2008-NOV-01.

[2008]: Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases – Passiflora spp. Retrieved 2008-NOV-01.

(2006): Paternal, maternal, and biparental inheritance of the chloroplast genome in Passiflora (Passifloraceae): implications for phylogenic studies. Botany 94(1): 42-46. PDF fulltext

(1927): Deutsches Worterbuch der Pflanzennamen ["German Plant Name Dictionary"]. Leipzig.

(1992): New Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary with a Concise Grammars and Given Names in Hawaiian. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu. ISBN 0-8248-1392-8

(1966): Passionsblume ["Passion flowers"]. In: Praktisches Gartenlexikon der Buchergilde (2nd ed.): 270-271 [in German]. Buchergilde Gutenberg. Frankfurt am Main, Vienna, Zurich.

(1995): Defence and carnivory: dual roles of bracts in Passiflora foetida. Journal of Biosciences 20(5): 657-664. PDF fulltext

(2008): Passionflower. Retrieved 2008-NOV-01.

External links

The Passiflora Society International

Passiflora online

Passiflora edulis

Passiflora Picture Gallery

Chilean Passiflora pictures

A list of Heliconius Butterflies and the Passiflora species their larvae consume

Henk's passiflora site, gallery of more than 400 images
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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Passion flower

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