Grow it yourself: Passion Fruit
When I was a boy, around that age that girls suddenly started to be interesting, there was this urban legend going around that if you fed a girl with passion fruit she would become overwhelmed with desire and start doing things with you that good girls normally don’t do. We all believed it. Why else would it be called passion fruit? Well, I tried it and it didn’t work. Later on in life I figured out that the best form of seduction is genuine attention. But that, of course, is a completely different story.
Later still, I discovered that the passion in passion fruit actually stands for the passion of Christ – where ‘passion’ means suffering rather than pleasure. But you don’t need to worry about suffering when you eat them. Stop taking things so literally. You see, the passion fruit originates from South America and when the Spanish missionaries first saw them, they thought their flowers portrayed ‘Christ’s passion on the cross’ because the flowers have ‘Three Nails, Five Wounds, a Crown of Thorns and the Apostles’. Well, in the eyes of a devout Christian missionary they might. The flowers are certainly very unusual. Anyway, the name stuck.
Passion fruit comes from a large family that includes several hundred species. Most of them are native to the tropics of South and Central America, Brazil, Mexico, and the West Indies, but there are also species that are native to Australia. The Spanish explorers loved the fruits that these vines produced, so they took them back to Europe and from there they spread around the world.
And while some things that taste good are pretty bad for you, like marshmallows or triple shots of vodka mixed with Coca Cola, these little babies are excellent for your health as well. Why? Well, passion fruit is high in vitamins A and C, as well as being rich in potassium, calcium, iron and other nutrients. But the plant is also popular for its medicinal value. The leaves of many species of passiflora, the plant that bears the passion fruit, have been used for centuries by the indigenous tribes of Latin America as a sedative or calming tonic. Brazilian tribes used the fruit as a heart tonic and medicine, and in a favourite drink called maracuja grande that is frequently used to treat asthma, whooping cough, bronchitis and other stubborn coughs.
Passion fruit still has an important place in South American traditional medicine. In Peruvian traditional medicine, the juice is used for urinary infections and as a mild diuretic. In Madeira, passion fruit juice is given as a digestive stimulant and to treat gastric cancer. And where we come from, you can by a tincture of passiflora which you use to keep calm before exams. Drinking the whole bottle would make you pretty groggy though. I tried this, of course, just to prove the medicinal benefits.
Grow it yourself
But since you are reading this, your green fingers might well be eager to try growing these for yourself. Well, why don’t you give it a go? Passion fruit vines are evergreen climbers that love to ramble over fences, sheds and outhouses, or up a veranda, pergola or screen.
They are self-clinging, due to their spidery tendrils. They prefer a north-facing position, and though they will grow in westerly or easterly position you may find them sneaking around to the north to find more sun.
They can grow 5 to 7 metres per year, once established, and they will need strong support. A plant will live five to seven years, and although they grow best in tropical climes, they will survive temperatures low as -6 degrees. They will also do well indoors, for all you indoor urban farmers out there.
Decent growth, plenty of fruit
To get decent growth and plenty of fruit, plant the vines in a sunny, frost-free spot and lavish them with TLC. Passion fruit vines develop extensive root systems to fuel all that growth and fruit production, so allow plenty of room for the roots to grow. Also, keep the surrounding area free of weeds and competing plants, including grass.
How to grow passion fruit
- Plenty of room
- Keep free of weeds and competing plants
- Space to climb
- Sunny and frost-free spot
- Keep well drained
- Prune back early spring
- In spring and summer water once a week
Give the vine space to climb too. An ideal spot to grow a vine is along a wire fence, across a balcony, or over a pergola where they will provide year-round shade. If you want to grow a vine along a sunny wall or fence, install some wire, trellis or mesh for the tendrils to wind themselves around.
Passion fruit dislike having ‘wet feet’ and are prone to root rot in wet soils, so select a well-drained garden bed or slope. Add organic matter, such as composted manures to the soil before planting, as well as a little lime.
Fruit is produced from the current season’s growth so it is important to prune back after the last frost or in early spring. We advise pruning back by about a third. Remove weak growth and dieback. Thin out the vine every few years to increase ventilation. It’s easy to see why passion fruit are so hungry – they produce so many flowers and fruit!
Flowering and fruiting passion fruit
Feed the vines with a fruit tree fertiliser and a little extra potash. Side dressings are also beneficial. When choosing your fertiliser, keep in mind that fertiliser high in nitrogen will produce leaves at the expense of flowers and fruit. Water deeply once a week in the spring and summer and spread the fertiliser and mulch over the entire root system, not just around the base of the stem. Passion fruit thrive on any fertiliser designed to encourage flowering and fruiting. Apply fertiliser in spring and then every four weeks during the summer months. Always water well when applying fertiliser. It can take 12–18 months for a newly planted vine to reach fruiting size. We usually get one large crop during summer and autumn; gardeners in more tropical areas will get continual cropping. The fruits are ripe when the skin is wrinkled: pick the fruit before it drops.
Passion fruit are susceptible to root rot (Phytothera). The sign that this is occurring are large patches of straw-coloured foliage that look almost like they have been burned. Subsequently the whole vine will collapse. You can prevent this by planting on a well-drained site and watering monthly with Anti-rot phosacid. Sometimes aphids can spread a virus which causes mottled leaves. This is incurable so if it occurs, pull the vine out and start again.
Tips & Tricks:
- If it rains during the flowering period, you might consider pollinating the flowers by hand to boost the yield of fruit.
- Passion fruit vines live up to seven years, after which time they will need to be replaced.
- Grow passion fruit on a trellis, fence or support that faces west or northwest for the best growth and productivity.
- Suckering is common with black passion fruit. Be on the look-out for different shaped leaves which are a sign of suckers from the non-fruiting rootstock. Pull the suckers off as soon as you notice them.
Recipe for passion fruit cocktail
Passion fruit is easy to eat. Just cut them in half, scoop out the flesh with a spoon and enjoy. Or try this one out on one of those wonderful summer nights when the sweet smell of hay hangs in the air and you’re sitting outside on your porch with some friends.
Passion fruit caipirinha
- 1/2 medium passion fruit
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Crushed ice
- 2 shots of cachaca
- Sugar, for garnish
Scoop out the flesh and seeds of the passion fruit and transfer these to a mixing glass or cocktail shaker along with sugar, and cachaca. Shake this with the ice and pour into a tumbler. Garnish the edges of the glass with sugar before you pour the drink into the glass. Enjoy with passion.
Tips and information about growing Passion Fruit yourself. Passion Fruit is high in vitamins A and C, as well as being rich in potassium, calcium, iron and other nutrients. But the plant is also popular for its medicinal value.
How to Grow Passionflower Indoors
Marcelo Piotti/Getty Images
Passionflower gained its name from the unique structure of its flowers and their symbolic importance. According to the plant’s original catalogers, each of the flower’s structures can be seen as symbols of the Passion of Christ. The corolla reflects Christ’s crown of thorns, the five stamens are for the five wounds in his hands, feet, and side, and the three stigmata are for the nails that were used to nail Christ to the cross.
Whatever their religious significance, there is no question that passion flowers are beautiful and strange, especially the most commonly grown houseplant, the P. caerulea. But make no mistake: growing a successful passionflower is a bit like grabbing a tiger’s tail. They are robust, rampant vines under ideal conditions that may need frequent pruning to stay well behaved.
You will need to provide plenty of light and water for your passionflower, especially in summer.
- Light: Bright light, especially during the summer growing season. Full sun is preferable in the summer, with as much light as you can give during the winter.
- Water: Keep the plants moist at all times during the growing season, and you might have to water larger plants twice a day in the heat. During winter, reduce watering but don’t let them dry out.
- Temperature: Warm in summer (household temperatures are fine) and colder in winter months (down to 50 F at night). They are generally hardy, and even if they die back to the soil, they will likely recover next spring.
- Soil: A rich, fast-draining mix is ideal.
- Fertilizer: Fertilize adequately during the growing season, with controlled-release fertilizer and liquid fertilizer.
Passionflower is easy to propagate with leaf-tip cuttings. Take cuttings in the spring. Strip off a few leaves to expose nodes and bury the cutting in moist seedling starting soil. Keep your seedling in a warm and bright place until new growth emerges. Rooting hormone is likely not necessary as passionflower easily roots from cuttings.
Repot young plants every spring into a larger pot. Older plants can be stretched out every few years between repotting. To control their size, it’s best to cut your passionflower down in the fall, leaving only a few vines of between 15″ and 20″ long in the pot. Be aware, however, that plants trimmed in this way will still need to be repotted or at least refreshed.
There are several varieties of passionflower. In subtropical and tropical regions, these are used as butterfly and landscape plants, and collectors pride themselves on large collections. Indoors, however, by far the most commonly grown passionflower is the blue and purple Passiflora caerulea, which has a number of named hybrids. The P. incarnata features blue flowers, with a more frilly appearance, while red passion flowers include the P. manicata. In general, the blue passionflowers are a bit more well behaved in comparison to the red flowering species, which can be monstrously aggressive growers.
Passionflower vines have deeply lobed leaves with flowers that hang or peek out from the leaves. Some of the species have edible fruit, which is a sweet and delicious tropical fruit. Outside, passionflowers are grown on walls, fences, and trellises, where they are frequented by many varieties of butterflies.
If you are planning to grow passionflower Indoors, their sprawling vines can be troublesome. One particularly effective way to manage their growth is to train the vines around wire support, such as a loop of wires forming a giant oval above the pot. In terms of pests, the greatest danger is usually mites or mealybugs. Both can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Lastly, passionflowers are rampant growers during the growing season and benefit from plenty of sunshine, water, and fertilizer, as well as frequent pruning, which can even stimulate more blooms.
Learn how to grow passionflowers as houseplants, including tips on watering, trimming, and repotting to encourage the most blooms.