Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Ohio is home to just under 1,800 native species of vascular plants according to the latest published list of the flora.  I've seen my fair share of those on that list; some are rather forgettable and not very showy, while some are 'in your face' gorgeous and are impossible to ignore.  This is the latter.

Purple Passionflower  ~  Passiflora incarnata

Few wildflowers can draw the eyes of even the most unobservant or uninterested as easily as the purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).  You wouldn't be wrong to assume its home is the steamy tropics near the equator; most members of the Passiflora  genus are native to tropical areas and have an equatorial distribution.  However, this species is right at home in the southeastern section of the country and even makes it into extreme southern Ohio.  Many are probably most familiar with this passionflower in the garden and/or cultivation scene but it does exist within the state naturally, albeit quite infrequently.

Purple Passionflower  ~  Passiflora incarnata

Passiflora incarnata is a threatened species in our state, where indigenous populations have almost entirely been recorded in the southernmost counties along the Ohio River.  Despite being a 'weed' in the south, the extended frost/freeze windows to the north help limit it at its northern distribution terminus.  This past weekend while botanizing Hamilton county and feasting on the paw paw's I posted about recently, I came across an entanglement of this enchanting vine along the side of the road.  This species thrives in disturbed areas with full sun such as; fields, thickets, and roadsides.

Purple Passionflower  ~  Passiflora incarnata

Although a vine, the plants themselves are herbaceous, not woody, and all above-ground growth is killed back each year after the first freeze but will return from the underground perennial root stock come spring.  The side profile photo above really exhibits this plant's remarkably unique architecture and composition.  There truly is nothing else outside another Passiflora that comes close to its intoxicating beauty.  Come fall the plant is dotted with large, edible fruit pods know as 'passion fruit'.  I've never had it but many find the sweet, gummy flesh surrounding the seeds to be delicious.

You may be interested to know that there's a second species of passionflower native to Ohio's soils and is more common and wide-spread than the former but not nearly as large or noticeable.

Yellow Passionflower  ~  Passiflora lutea

The yellow passionflower (P. lutea) is structurally more-or-less the same as the purple taxa above and is instantly recognized as a member of Passiflora.  They are about one-third the size of the purple passionflower but still show off their charm and beauty when the environmental conditions allow.  Ohio still lies at the northern fringe of its range but the yellow passionflower can be found in thickets, rocky woods, and even low, rich woods throughout the southern half of the state.


  1. I saw my first passion flower this past spring, in my new neighborhood in NE Florida and was very excited! It sure is a showy, unique flower. You've made a very nice post about one of my favorite flora. :o)

  2. I recently saw some in Highland County, just south of Hillsboro along CR 5 near a ditch and fallow field. This seems to be north of where I would expect it.