Diggin' In: Expect a passion for this vine, but look before you leap

May 18, 2015

Vertical gardening with vines is tempting, especially when you grow out of horizontal space to use.

Vines are romantic looking, winding their way around trellises and arbors and across the tops of fences.

But, as the old saying goes, vines creep, then leap. Beware of where they can leap — and then emerge.

Purple Passionflower vine is one of those grand leapers. During its first year in a garden, passionflower is polite and prolific. The next year, passionflower turns into a rude runaway, sending its roots deep underground and into all parts of a garden.

Native plant expert Helen Hamilton of Williamsburg, Va., likes passionflower, too, and knows a lot about its good and bad behavior.

"The plant has deep roots and colonizes to form groundcover," says Hamilton, co-author of "Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal Plain."

"In a controlled garden or flower bed, this viny plant should be located in a container, sunk into the ground."

Intricate in design and looks, the vine’s three-inch lavender flowers have a fringe of wavy, hair-like segments, banded with purple and on top the five sepals and petals. Three styles extend from the ovary in the center of the flower, a unique arrangement that allows only large bees to collect pollen, according to Hamilton. Leaves are attractively toothed along the edges.

Purple Passionflower is a host plant for the Variegated Fritillary butterfly. Emerging early in the spring, female butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of the plant and can produce as many as three broods through the year. Caterpillars feed on the leaves throughout summer and into the fall.

Growing in fields, pine woods and fencerows across Virginia, the plant thrives in the southeastern United States, Bermuda and west to Oklahoma and Texas. The plant prefers rich soil but grows in any kind. Full sun produces abundant flowers; drainage can be moist to dry.

Passiflora is a large family — more than 500 species of the genus, mostly vines, shrubs and trees of tropical America, according to Hamilton. Passiflora Society International — – tracks newly discovered species and man-created hybrids. Native to South America and sold often in local nurseries, the leaves of nonnative blue passionflower (P. caerulea) have five lobes, not three.

Passionflowers were discovered by a Roman Catholic friar in Mexico in the early 1600s, according to Hamilton, and symbolism of Christianity abounds: The combined sepals and petals are said to represent 10 apostles (omitting Peter, who denied, and Judas, who betrayed), the five anthers for the five wounds, the column of the ovary for the cross, the stamens for the hammers and the three stigmas for the three nails.

Chemists have found drugs in passionflower used to combat insomnia and anxiety, according to Hamilton.

Another name for passionflower, Maypop, comes from the hollow yellow fruits that pop when crushed.

The greenish-yellow edible fruit makes a tasty jelly. It is the official state wildflower of Tennessee, she says.

Variegated Frittilary

No other butterfly looks like the fritillary family — their wings have a checkered black and orange pattern, according to Hamilton. The most common, Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia), features lightly scalloped edges and wavy black lines on the upper side of its orange wings. The underside is tan and brown, making it difficult to distinguish from a dead leaf. The caterpillar is orange with white spots and black, branched spines; the chrysalis is a delicate pearl color with a few brown spots and gold spikes.

Fritillaries are among the earliest butterflies, the first brood appearing in early spring and two or three more broods through summer and into November. They fly in open sunny areas – fields, road edges, landfills; adults look for nectar from milkweeds, dogbane, red clover and tickseed sunflower. The female Variegated Fritillary lays eggs on a native passionflower, maypops, mayapple and violets.



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