The ‘Lady Margaret’ Passionflower blooming now is a gorgeous deep red with a white center. Passionflowers are an interesting combination of delicate petals and filaments topped by the very architectural structure of the stamens. Or, as the Missouri Botanical Garden website says, “The hallmark of the family is the corona… filaments that extend outward like a cup. The corona…carries perfume, holds in nectar, acts as a landing platform for pollinators, and is a visual attractant. In Passiflora, the stamens are borne beneath the ovary on an elevated column”.
Passiflora is a genus of about 500 species worldwide, mostly vines. There are nine species native to North America, with a few being much cold-hardier than you would think from their tropical appearance. P. incarnata, also known as Maypop, can be grown outdoors in zone 5. P. lutea and P. caerulea are also considered cold hardy enough to grow outdoors in southern Rhode Island.
Lady Margaret was given to me by a plant person who knows her plants, and I’m sure it is a Lady Margaret. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the species or hybrid name, and a quick internet search came up with lots of possibilities: Passiflora vitifolia x P. caerulea, Passiflora coccinea x P. incarnata, Passiflora caerulea ‘Constance Eliott’ x P. miniata, Passiflora incarnata x P. miniata, and Passiflora coccinea x P. caerulea. It will take a little more detective work to figure this one out !
I did look into the common name Passionflower, which doesn’t refer to the Valentine’s Day passion of love. Too bad, because I think they’re more interesting than red roses! The word passion is sometimes used to mean suffering, and 15th and 16th century Spanish Christian missionaries viewed the unique physical structures of this plant as symbols of the last days of Jesus and his crucifixion. In different parts of the world, Passionflowers have reminded people of other things, such as clocks: it’s Clock-flower in Hebrew and Clock-plant in Japanese.
Passiflora incarnata (not my Lady Margaret) has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. The University of Maryland Medical Center (www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/passionflower-000267.htm) says a tea of the flowers, leaves, and stems was used traditionally in the Americas and later in Europe as a “calming” herb for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria. It is still used today to treat anxiety and insomnia.
Passionflowers in their native habitats are an important source of food for a variety of creatures. Some are pollinated by hummingbirds, wasps, bumblebees, or bats looking for nectar. Larvae and caterpillars of a wide variety of butterflies feed on the leaves. Some Passifloras, such as P. edulis, are cultivated for their fruit by people of the Caribbean.
Cuttings are the easiest way to propagate Passionflowers. Cuttings taken in the spring and kept close to 65 F will root readily in a 50/50 mix of peat and perlite. They’re not hard to grow, preferring well drained soil and full sun. The root systems are relatively small, so they can be grown indoors without the need for a huge pot.