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Passion fruit: A new alternative crop for small farmers

Introduction

Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) is a perennial, climbing, woody vine that produces edible round or ovoid fruit with many small seeds. Major producers include Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and some African countries. In the United States, passion fruit is grown commercially in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and California.

Vines have a productive life of 3 to 4 years. New plantings should be made on a continuous 3-year rotation to maintain production. The fruit are used as fresh or juice. Popular cultivars include purple and yellow passion fruit. The purple passion fruit is the more common type and has an egg-shaped or round-shaped fruit which is 4–6 cm in diameter and becomes purple when ripe. Passion fruit growing is a great option to family operated farms. Many passion fruit growers have other fruit crops or agricultural enterprises.

Passion fruit vines are usually grown from seeds. If planted soon after removal from the fruit, seeds will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks. Some growers prefer layers or cuttings of matured wood with 3 to 4 nodes. Cuttings should be well rooted and ready for setting out in 90 days.

Climate Requirements

Passion fruit are adapted to tropical and semitropical climates, such as Florida. USDA hardiness zones 9b and above are suggested for P. edulis. Under favorable conditions, new plants grow vigorously and typically begin producing flowers and fruit within a year of planting. In areas with potentially freezing or cold temperatures (<50°F), young plants may be planted in early spring when the chance of frost is over. In areas with warm to hot temperatures, plants may be planted anytime (temperatures ><90°F) as long as irrigation is available during dry periods.><50ᵒF), young plants may be planted in early spring when the chance of frost is over. In areas with warm to hot temperatures, plants may be planted anytime (temperatures <90ᵒF) if irrigation is available during dry periods.

Curtain training on a vertical trellis

Location

Passion fruit grow best in full sun or a location where they can reach full sun after climbing. Passion fruit vines should be planted in well-drained soils and will tolerate near-neutral to alkaline (pH 6–7.5) conditions, but slightly acid soils are best. For home landscape plantings, a simple but strong fence or trellis that can withstand high winds when covered with a vine may be used. For commercial production, there are numerous trellis designs and configurations. A common method is a vertical trellis with rows spaced 10 to 15 feet apart. Spacing between plants in the row varies between 6 and 10 ft. Rows should be planted north-south to maximize exposure to sunlight. Ground cover, plastic mulch, or conventional mulch can be used to suppress weeds and maintain soil moisture.

Soil Requirements

Passion fruit likes a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Prepare soil by incorporating plenty of compost and well-rotted manure to a planting zone 3-6 ft wide.

Irrigation

Water regularly and ensure good soil fertility by incorporating well-balance all-purpose organic fertilizer early spring and early autumn. Too much nitrogen encourages only leaf growth at the expense of fruiting. Regular pruning will improve production and keep your vines healthy.

Fertilization

During the first year, a young vine should be fertilized to encourage maximum growth of the roots and vines (Table 1). Maximum fruit production usually begins after a full year of growth. Common fertilizers, such as 10-10-10 or 8-3-9, may provide adequate nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It is important to also provide secondary nutrients and micronutrients to maximize plant health and fruit quality.

Pollination

In south Florida, passion fruit flower and fruit from spring through fall/early winter, depending upon the cultivar (Figure 20). In north central Florida, flowering typically occurs in the spring, and fruit mature in midsummer. Pollination is essential for fruit production. Purple passion fruit flowers are self-fertile, while many purple-yellow hybrids may or may not be self-fertile. Yellow passion vines are not self-fertile and require pollen from a compatible vine that is genetically different. If using self-incompatible cultivars of passion fruit, it is suggested to plant two different cultivars in the same area to encourage pollination and fruit set. While carpenter bees are commonly found in north and central Florida, they are rarely observed in south Florida. Hand pollination with a clean cotton glove or paintbrush is a labor-intensive but effective way to ensure fruit production. The time from flowering to harvest is generally 70–75 days.

The most satisfactory way to supply ample pollination is by stocking the area with sufficient honey bee colonies. The first fruit will appear 6-8 months after planting with the best crops after 18 months. Fruit will drop off the vine when ready. Vines generally perform well for 3-5 years after which they need to be replaced.

Gulf fritillary caterpillar feeding on leaf

Pest and Disease

Passion fruit woodiness virus, brown spot, fruit fly, and poor pollination are major issues in passion fruit production. Nematodes also can be a serious problem. Caterpillars slow growth by eating foliage

Cultivars

While P. edulis is most commonly grown, there are other species within the Passiflora genus that are of agricultural significance: sweet passion fruit (P. alata) has yellow to orange fruit; sweet granadilla (P. ligularis) has an orange shell when ripe; water lemon (P. laurifolia) has yellow or orange fruit and coconut flavor notes; sweet calabash (P. maliformis) has round yellow-brown fruit; and giant granadilla (P. quadrangularis) has greenish-yellow fruit up to 8 inches long. P. incarnata, commonly called maypop or “passion flower” (not to be confused with P. edulis), is the most cold-hardy species native to the southern United States, and it has yellow to green fruit that are insipid to slightly sweet.

Popular cultivars include purple passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) and yellow passion fruit (Passiflora edulis flavicarpa), with the purple passion fruit being the more common type. The fruit can be consumed fresh or processed for juice, flavoring, or value-added products like jams and jellies. The fruit is round or eggshaped and 2½ to 3 inches long (6.3 to 7.6 cm). The yellow passion fruit is very similar to the purple type except for its skin color. The life span of a productive passion fruit vine is typically about three to four years, though they may occasionally live longer. The true purple passion fruit is said to be adapted to high-elevation environments in the tropics. In contrast, yellow types and purple-yellow hybrids are considered better adapted to lower, warmer elevations. Passion fruit prefer well-drained soil and have shallow root systems. Most passion fruit vines start producing meaningful fruits from their second year especially under relatively colder conditions.

In Florida, purple and yellow passion fruit have been widely cultivated by homeowners for years, and south Florida’s subtropical climate allows for growing passion fruit yearround. Many factors affect longevity and productivity of passion fruit vine, including environmental stresses, pests, and disease.

 For more information please read

THE PASSION FRUIT IN FLORIDA

PASSION FRUIT PROBLEMS IN THE HOME LANDSCAPE