Vines, any vines, are great in the landscape. Three reasons. First, vines need little root space to flourish, thus they can fit in even the smallest yard. Second, many vines have beautiful flowers, and the bloom period can last for months, offering an opportunity to fill your yard with color. Third, and in my book best of all, vines produce food, fiber, and other usable products (grapes for wine, hops for beer, I could go on). Tops on my vine list for this area, with trouble-free growth, ample fruit production, and amazing blooms for months, not to mention butterflies galore - passion vine, or Passiflora.
Called variously passion flower, passion fruit and passion vine, Passiflora has over 500 species and countless varieties, most with edible fruit. One passion vine, Passiflora edulis, bears the fruit for “Hawaiian Punch.” That species has large leaves and does best in lands of high humidity.
For planting here, the native Sonoran passion vine, Passiflora foetida, is the way to go. It has a number of other common names, including running pop, love-in-a-mist, stinking passion flower, maracuja, marya-marya, and wild water lemon. What ever you call it, the bloom appears the same. Stunning!
Blooms open at night, releasing a heavy, musky scent that draws in bats and the giant sphinx or hummingbird moths. Blooms last into the daylight hours, and I have seen queen, monarch, and gulf fritillary butterflies all at the same time on the flowers.
About the butterflies. Passion vine is the larval host plant for the gulf fritillary, also called the passion butterfly (Agraulis vanillae), a striking orange and brown beauty. The larvae are striking as well, orange and black with spikes all over. You will need to tolerate these voracious larvae munching on your plants if you want butterflies. Consider some extra water and fertilizer to help your plants recover from their action.
A fast grower, a single Passiflora foetida plant can grow up to feet 20 tall and cover 15 feet in a year. The plant itself may bloom from March to first freeze, and the fruits ripen in four to six weeks after each flower is pollinated, thus they appear throughout the summer. I planted mine under a mesquite tree and it weaves handsomely up through the foliage. Passion vine will not choke the tree like some aggressive vines. It usually dies to the ground every winter but quickly resprouts every spring, as soon as the soils warm in late February.
Baja passion flower vine (Passiflora foetida v. longipedunculata) has more showy flowers that last to mid-day. It will also die back to the ground in a hard freeze, but will come back (at least mine did). Generally they start blooming in March, and last through October. Like their Arizona cousin, Baja passion vine is a fast grower and one plant can cover 20 by 15 feet. The fruits of both varieties are equally edible. My only problem is that I should have planted them on an arbor, not growing up a tree, so I could harvest them more easily!
Both of these species will grow in well-drained, desert soil. Both appreciate good garden soil and grow faster. Both may fruit in their first year. But before you bite into any passion fruit, you have to know that the way to eat them is to slit open the leathery outer rind and feast on the sweet flesh and seeds inside. Passion fruit can store for at least a month in the fridge, but if you leave ripe fruit on the vine, the birds will get them.
Plant this vine for the striking flowers as well and the green shade it produces in summer. Plant this for the butterflies, and for the yummy fruit.
(Editor’s Note: Jacqueline Soule is an award-winning garden writer and author. Look for her latest, “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” due out this summer from Cool Springs Press.)