A Divine Vine

December 7, 2016

A Divine Vine

Whether growing on a trellis or left to ramble over the ground, a passionflower vine (Passiflora sp.) will add color, fragrance, and a tropical air to the garden, transforming it into a heavenly place. Priests who accompanied Spanish explorers to the Americas in the 16th century gave the passionflower its name to honor the Passion of Christ. They believed that parts of the intricate flower symbolized elements of the Crucifixion and that its five petals and five sepals represented the ten Apostles who did not betray or deny knowing Christ.

There are over 400 species of passionflowers, most of them tropical. One cold-hardy species, Passiflora incarnata, is thought to have gotten its nickname “maypop” from the loud popping sound the fruit makes when squeezed. The native plant grows from Virginia and Kentucky south to Florida and Texas. Native Americans knew of its sweet-tasting, egg-shape fruits and powerful medicinal properties. The dried, powdered vines were used to relieve back pain and induce sleep; the yellow fruits were eaten out of hand as well as fermented into an alcoholic drink used in religious ceremonies. Today, the herb is used in Europe to lower blood pressure, relieve tension, and treat insomnia.

Maypop seeds are extremely slow to germinate, often taking up to a year. Before sowing the seeds, soak them for 12 hours. Then plant them in flats or pots in a standard growing mix. Once germination takes place, grow plants indoors until the following spring; then plant them outdoors after the last spring frost. Stem cuttings may be taken from new growth in the spring or mature wood in early summer. Root them in a mixture of moist sand and peat moss. The cuttings will take about three months to root. As with seedlings, set the rooted cuttings outside when danger of frost has passed.

Maypop requires well-drained soil and full sun. It will overwinter as far north as Zone 5 if given a sheltered spot and mulched heavily. The vigorous vine may grow to 20 feet in a single season, producing dozens of magnificent two- to three-inch-wide purple and white blossoms that are sure to stir the passion in any gardener.

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