passionflower field notes

The perennial purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a beautiful, stunning nervine long used to treat mild pain, depression, and anxiety, especially the kind caused by circular thinking (spiraling thoughts) leading to insomnia.


Cherokee have used the roots as a poultice for inflammation and an infusion for eardrops, among other preparations. Cherokee in Tennessee named the Ocoee River and valley after their word for this plant.


The name "passionflower" refers to the passion of Jesus; Spanish missionaries felt the blooms' aesthetics symbolized the crucifixion. Also called maypops, the tough green fruits "may pop" when you step on them. (Another origin: the roots lie dormant underground throughout winter, and then the plant "pops" up in May.)


Invasive in some areas, the aggressive vine is known to engulf porches and walls where planted. It often competes with slower-growing plants for light.


Passionflower is a favorite of pollinators; the curved anthers are perfectly shaped to deposit pollen on the fuzzy backs of visiting bees... It's honestly one of the coolest sights I've witnessed while observing plants. Gulf fritillary (or passion butterfly) caterpillars feed only on Passiflora species.


Passiflora incarnata, purple passionflower. Monacan land (Powhatan State Park, VA).

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© 2020 - Natalie K. Stickel