Butterfly Garden Plant Passiflora incarnata Purple Passionflower

Butterfly Garden Plants

Purple Passionflower

(Passiflora incarnata)

Other common names for this plant include Maypop, Apricot Vine

General Information
Cultural Requirements
Native Range
Plant Rating
Plant Reviews

General InformationNABA_DividerBar

Purple Passionflower vines are widely spread throughout their range. The vines will produce a hollow, yellow fruit that produces a loud popping noise when crushed, hence the common name of Maypop. The flowers are fragrant.

Although it is a beautiful flowering vine, purple passionflower can be aggressive, spreading throughout the garden. Increasing by both rhizomes (underground stems) and seeds from its yellow fruit, many gardeners report that they have a difficult time keeping this plant from taking over and it will show up each spring in different locations.

During the growing season the vines use their curly tendrils to cling to any nearby structure or ramble every which way over neighboring plants.

Despite a possible garden takeover by this plant, gardeners report the flowers and their fragrance are wonderful. For butterfly gardeners there is the additional hopeful bonus of watching scores of spiky bright orange Gulf Fritillary and Variegated Fritillary caterpillars munch the plants on their way to becoming butterflies.While the Gulf and Variegated Fritillary caterpillars are often mentioned as seen on the vines, other caterpillars that might be feasting on purple passionflower such as the Zebra Heliconian, generally feed at night and are less likely to be noticed.

The following article originally appeared in Butterfly Gardener, a NABA publication for members. It originally appeared in Vol 15: No.4, Winter 2010. NABA member Lenora Larson has graciously allowed us to reprint it here.

Host Plant: Passiflora incarnata
By Lenora Larson

There are many definitions of frustration. Here's one for the butterfly gardener: Frustration is a native caterpillar food plant that grows much further north than its butterfly species. My luxuriant vine with spectacular flowers is untouched by the mandibles of any caterpillar.

Of course I am referring to Passiflora incarnata, the Purple Passionflower, beloved for its tropical appearance by gardeners as far north as Pennsylvania. Over 350 species of Passiflora are native throughout the subtropics of the Americas, Europe and Asia, but most of these evergreen perennial vines are hardy only to zone 9 and therefore compatible with the needs of the Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Heliconians. Indeed, my butterfly gardening friends along the gulf states can grow even more spectacular Passiflora species. Imported from Brazil,P. caeruleahas 4 inch diameter white and blue flowers and another Brazilian import,P. edulishas 3 inch white and purple flowers and edible purple fruit.

The Passionflower species are cherished for their extraordinarily intricate blooms, which have become symbols of the Passion of Christ's crucifixion. My friend Mary has a Biblical Garden: all the plants' names are in the Bible. Her Passionflower vine is the star of the garden so she can explain the significations: The petal's purple stripes mimic Jesus' wounds. The coronal filaments symbolize the crown of thorns. The styles represent the three nails and the stamen represents the hammer that drove the nails into Jesus' hands and feet. The three secondary calyx and attending leaf bracts signify the holy trinity. The stigmas represent Jesus and the two thieves. The petals and sepals represent the 10 faithful apostles who were present at the crucifixion. The leaves represent the hands of the prosecutors, and the clinging tendrils are the scourges, used to flagellate Jesus as he carried the cross. A chalice-like ovary symbolizes the Holy Grail. And the flowers of Passion Vines are generally purple, blue and white, colors which represent the King, the heavens and purity.

P. incarnata, AKA Apricot Vine, bears a delicious pale orange egg-sized fruit, used for jelly or a sweet drink. The American Indians harvested them as a food and as a source of medicine, beneficial in treating epilepsy, hemorrhoids and neuralgia. In addition, the large bright-green palmate leaves make this vine an attractive fast-growing cover for a partial-sun sturdy fence or trellis. Be warned: P. incarnata grows enthusiastically in fertile, well-drained soil. Every year the rhizome will produce numerous climbing shoots which scramble up a trellis to 20 feet or more. ;Maypop is yet another common name, but here in the Tropics of Kansas, it should be called a Willpop. The rampant vines will pop up everywhere, pesky without caterpillars to keep it neatly trimmed.

The caterpillars? Two gorgeous butterfly species use the Passionflower vine as a caterpillar food plant. The black and yellow Zebra Heliconian is the state butterfly of Florida where it is common year-round. Both the butterfly and their white caterpillars are striking beauties that should be welcome in every gulf state garden.

The Gulf Fritillary has the silver spangled under wings of a Fritillary, but actually is a Heliconian. Gulf Fritillaries have been reported as far north as Lawrence, KS so I planted my Passion-Flower Vine after seeing the darling punk-rocker caterpillars in Austin, TX. Fifteen years have passed with only one butterfly sighted. But hope springs eternal in the heart of the butterfly gardener and the Passion-Flower is still worthy of a proud place in my garden.


Cultural RequirementsNABA_DividerBar

USDA Hardiness Zone 5 to 9
Bloom Period April to August
Bloom Color Blue to purple
Plant Height Vine, 12 to 36 feet
Plant Spread 5 to 6 feet
Light Exposure Sun to part shade
Soil Moisture Medium
Animal/Disease Problems None


Native RangeNABA_DividerBar
Passiflora incarnata







Plant RatingNABA_DividerBar
Plant rating scale ranges from 0 to 3. Plants rating 3 are the most useful for butterfly gardens. For more details on the ratings, see Native Plant Ratings

Garden Rating 2
Nectar Rating 0
Caterpillar Rating 3


Plant Reviews

Houston, TX Purple passionflower is used by Gulf and Variegated Fritillaries, Zebra Heliconians, and Julia Heliconians as caterpillar food. While the Gulf and Variegated Fritillaries are fairly common, Zebra and Julia Heliconians are not seen in flight on a regular basis every year. They are occasionally seen in the Houston area.