Saturday, November 6, 2010

Red Passionflower

Passiflora aurantia

I found this little vine in flower at Picnic Point, this week (on the walking trail that runs alongside the road.)

It’s a dainty little tendril-climbing plant, with these showy flowers that are white when they first open, but mature, over four days, through pink to red.

Related to commercial passionfruit, they have the same characteristics in the flowers which led Spanish missionaries in America to give passionflowers their name - they saw them as symbols of the passion of Christ.

Look carefully and you can see the crown of thorns in the flower (the red bit on the white flower), the ten “petals” representing the ten faithful disciples, the three pistils symbolising the nails, and the five anthers Christ’s wounds - and so on.
The flowers drip with sweet nectar, so attract honeyeaters and insects.
The fruits, which will develop after these flowers die, are about 3cm long, and ripen from green to purple. Like all passionfruits, they are poisonous when unripe, but can be eaten once they’ve turned purple (though the flavour is not interesting).
As with so many rainforest climbers, they like to have their roots well-shaded and mulched, but want their heads in the sun for part of the day, for good flowering.
They could be grown on a small trellis, either in the ground or as a pot plant. Alternatively, their tendrils are said to be so effective that they can climb brick walls, so perhaps they could be used to add a decorative note to a boring wall (though I imagine they would object to the heat of the afternoon sun). They would certainly be inoffensive light climbers for the purpose, unlikely to damage brickwork or reach higher than 2 metres.
The plants are fast-growing but not long-lived. For a good display of flowers, it would be best to grow a number of the plants, with new ones inserted amongst the old every now and again.
The seed may germinate more readily if fermented first, but as the plant is easily reproduced from cuttings you may decide this is the way to go.
The plant is the local native host for glasswing butterflies - one of our less showy species, but interesting, with their transparent wings. This little butterfly is more common nowadays than it ever was, despite the decline in numbers of its native host plant. Glasswings can also breed on Passiflora foetida - otherwise known as Love-in-the-mist - or for the more prosaic of you, “stinky passionflower”.

This introduced weed is one of those plants which is probably here to stay in the Australian environment. It’s a vigorous plant which can out-compete our gentle local red passionflowers, so you need not feel guilty about picking caterpillars off the local plant species. They need protection more than the caterpillars do.

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