One of my favorite vines for Bay Area gardens is Passion Flower (Passiflora). Just the name alone is enough to make me adore this plant, but its spectacular flower display is unparalleled among vines for our area. In my own garden I have several of these gorgeous plants: Passiflora jamisonii clambers atop the arbor over my front walkway, ‘Lavender Lady’ climbs a eucalyptus tree in the back garden, and mixta occupies a pot on the deck.
Passiflora was first classified by Linnaeus in 1745, when he recognized 22 species. There are now thought to be over 600 separate species worldwide, but many are under threat in their natural rainforest habitats. Hybrids were first produced in the UK in the 1820’s – the first one, P. x violacea, is still with us.
Passiflora is native to the continent of South America, and the name actually comes from descriptions sent back from South America to Spain by Spanish priests during the seventeenth century. The plant was described as “The Flower With The Five Wounds”, which symbolically linked it to the crucifixion of Christ. In their descriptions, the priests likened the five petals and five sepals to the disciples, the corona filaments to the crown of thorns, and the five stamen with anthers to the five sacred wounds.
Passiflora has been grown as a semi-domesticated fruit crop by the Aztecs, Incas & other South American peoples for thousands of years. Passiflora were widely introduced to Europe from South America in the eighteenth century, and can now be found in many parts of the world including Africa, Asia, Australia & North America.
There are numerous species of Passiflora that do well in the Bay Area; all are vigorous growers and require regular pruning to keep them under control. Passiflora don’t require much summer water once established. They are somewhat deer resistant, and extremely attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.
Passiflora sanguinolenta is a smaller passion vine, yet capable of covering a fair amount of fence. This cultivar has 1.5 inch pink blossoms, and is native to the mountains of Equador. It is hardy with temperatures into the mid-twenties, which will allow Passiflora sanguinolenta to flourish where many other Passion vines fail. Passiflora sanguinolenta blooms from spring through fall.
Passiflora ‘Coral Seas’: This brightly flowered beauty will bloom as long as it stays warm. Like all passion vines Passiflora Coral Sea is visited by the gulf fritillary butterflies and gulped by their progeny. This feasting rarely exceeds the growth rate of a happy plant, and the butterflies are one of the main attractions
Passiflora Incense is as ornate as it is hardy. The Incense Passion Flower is root hardy to zone 6. Like most of the passion vines, Passiflora Incense blooms and grows rapidly through the warmer months often leaping into adjacent plants. Cold weather or the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars help to keep it in bounds. Passiflora Incense has fragrant flowers. It is a hybrid of Passiflora incarnata and Passiflora cinnicata.
Passiflora caerulea: Passiflora caerulea varieties are about the hardiest around. Constance Elliot is more than reliable in our area. If you want to have a Butterfly Garden, the butterflies make this Passion Vine worth its space all by themselves.