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Weekly “What is it?”: Purple Passionflower

The intricate purple passionflower is irresistible to native butterflies. Photo credit: Mary Anne Tomlinson

Every now and then, you’ll come across something in nature so beautifully ornate and intricate that it’s truly artwork. To me, one example is the purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). Its numerous purple, curly petals and golden purple pistil and stamens invite the observer in for a closer look.

The orange and black caterpillars of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly use passionvine as their primary nectar plant. Photo credit: Libbie Johnson, UF IFAS Extension

Humans aren’t the only species entranced by the passionflower—the Gulf fritillary butterfly feeds on its nectar, then lays eggs on its leaves. Young fritillary caterpillars will eat passionvine leaves down to the nub, but the resilient species grows back heartily. In addition to their remarkable flowers, passionvine also grows an interesting seedpod. The round, green fruit is the size of a ping pong ball, and the loud sound made when the fruit is crushed gives the vine its other nickname, the “maypop.” Birds will eat the fruit, and Native Americans used the plant for medicinal purposes ranging from cuts and bruises to inflammation and insomnia.

The Gulf fritillary butterfly on a passionflower vine. Photo credit: Libbie Johnson, UF IFAS Extension

Hummingbirds and more butterflies—including the Zebra Longwing, Crimson-patch longwing, and Red-banded hairstreak—are attracted to the nectar.

Passionvines will grow wonderfully on a trellis or fence and will also pop up from seeds in the ground surrounding a vine. They are vigorous throughout the summer, flowering from late spring to September. While the vines will die back in the winter here, they will return each spring.