Plant 79

Passiflora alata Curtis (Passifloraceae)


Wing-stemmed passionflower

The name Passiflora comes from the Latin, passio (passion) and flos (flower). The early Spanish missionaries in the Americas thought the flowers resembled elements of Christ's Passion: the corona represents the Crown of Thorns; the styles the three nails; the anthers the five wounds; the petals and sepals the ten faithful apostles. Meanwhile, alata refers to the four-angled, winged stems.

Passiflora is a large genus with about 450 species, many of which have edible fruits and beautiful flowers. Passiflora alata is native scrambler of the forest areas of Amazonian Peru through Amazonia to eastern Brazil. Passiflora alata is very similar in appearance to Passiflora quadrangularis but has smaller leaves, flowers, corona filaments and fruits.

Passiflora alata is a vigorous species with stems that can reach 10 m, using tendrils to climb through the canopy or along wires or a framework in the garden or glasshouse. Consequently, in cultivation restrictive pruning is required; otherwise a woody mass of stems forms in the centre of the plant. At Oxford Botanic Garden, Passiflora alata can be found growing against the glass of Conservatory on wires, where it provides shading during the summer. Pruning takes place in early spring. Generally, passion flowers do not need rich soils, but they do need the soil to be well drained.

The exotic-looking, fragrant flowers have similar sepals and petals that are green on the outside and a deep crimson inside. The corona filaments are wavy and banded red, white and purple. For pollination and therefore fruit set, temperatures of 16 Celsius or more are needed. In glasshouses there may be insufficient pollinators, so a helping hand may be necessary. The fruits are 8-15cm in diameter and a yellow to rich orange colour. Passiflora alata is often grown commercially for its fruits, although it is not one of the main commercial species. It will tolerate temperatures below 2 Celsius for short periods, fairing better at 7 Celsius or more. Propagation is very easy by either cuttings or seed.

Passiflora alata is a popular parent for breeding passionflower hybrids. One such hybrid, Passiflora x belotii (Passiflora alata x Passiflora caerulea) is well known in North America. The hybrid was first raised by William Masters at a Kentish nursery and named by John Lindley, in 1824, as Passiflora alatocaerulea. However, under the rules of plant naming, Lindley's name cannot be used officially, making Passiflora x belotii the correct hybrid name.

Further reading

Huxley A 1999. The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. Groves Dictionaries Inc.

Ulmer T and MacDougal JM 2004. Passiflora. Passionflowers of the world. Timber Press.

Vanderplank J 1991. Passion flowers. Cassell Publishers Ltd.

Lucinda Lachelin

The 25th July 2021 marks 400 years of botanical research and teaching by the University of Oxford.

As a celebration and count-down to this anniversary, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, together with the Oxford University Herbaria and the Department of Plant Sciences, will highlight 400 plants of scientific and cultural significance. One plant will be profiled weekly, and illustrated with images from Oxford University's living and preserved collections.

  • Plant 78: Matteuccia struthiopteris
  • Plant 77: Acer carpinifolium
  • Plant 76: Vicia faba
  • Plant 75: Calycanthus floridus
  • Plant 74: Primula auricula
  • Plant 73: Strongylodon macrobotrys
  • Plant 72: Capsella bursa-pastoris
  • Plant 71: Barnadesia caryophylla
  • Plant 70: Erythronium dens-canis
  • Plant 69: Trifolium dubium
  • Plant 68: Forsythia spp.
  • Plant 67: Ananas comosus
  • Plant 66: Theobroma cacao
  • Plant 65: Nostoc sp.
  • Plant 64: Sciadopitys verticillata
  • Plant 63: Garrya elliptica
  • Plant 62: Psilotum nudum
  • Plant 61: Cyclamen species
  • Plant 60: Hevea brasiliensis
  • Plant 59: Semele androgyna
  • Plant 58: Monstera deliciosa
  • Plant 57: Musa textilis
  • Plant 56: Piper nigrum
  • Plant 55: Viscum album
  • Plant 54: Dieffenbachia seguine
  • Plant 53: Salvinia molesta
  • Plant 52: Saccharum officinarum
  • Plant 51: Metasequoia glyptostroboides
  • Plant 50: Equisetum sp.
  • Plant 49: Fraxinus excelsior
  • Plant 48: Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Plant 47: Ptelea trifoliata
  • Plant 46: Acer saccharum
  • Plant 45: Brassica oleracea
  • Plant 44: Helianthus annuus
  • Plant 43: Ricinus communis
  • Plant 42: Simmondsia chinensis
  • Plant 41: Chara sp.
  • Plant 40: Zingiber officinale
  • Plant 39: Aristolochia clematitis
  • Plant 38: Allium cepa
  • Plant 37: Galium tricornutum
  • Plant 36: Artemisia annua
  • Plant 35: Rosa canina
  • Plant 34: Nepenthes rajah
  • Plant 33: D. caryophyllus x barbatus
  • Plant 32: Taraxacum sp.
  • Plant 31: Victoria cruziana
  • Plant 30: Lathyrus odoratus
  • Plant 29: Heliconia rostrata
  • Plant 28: Senecio squalidus
  • Plant 27: Paulownia tomentosa
  • Plant 26: Urtica dioica
  • Plant 25: Euphorbia characias
  • Plant 24: Heliamphora nutans
  • Plant 23: Laurus nobilis
  • Plant 22: Tulipa sylvestris
  • Plant 21: Pleurococcus sp.
  • Plant 20: Gleditsia triacanthos
  • Plant 19: Tillandsia usneoides
  • Plant 18: Marchantia polymorpha
  • Plant 17: Daphne mezereum
  • Plant 16: Citrus medica
  • Plant 15: Coffea arabica
  • Plant 14: Gossypium species
  • Plant 13: Stachyurus praecox
  • Plant 12: Encephalartos ferox
  • Plant 11: Aloe vera
  • Plant 10: Araucaria angustifolia
  • Plant 9: Isoetes echinospora
  • Plant 8: Hamamelis virginiana
  • Plant 7: Lithops species
  • Plant 6: Sequoiadendron giganteum
  • Plant 5: Commiphora saxicola
  • Plant 4: Buxus sempervirens
  • Plant 3: Picea abies
  • Plant 2: Cinnamomum verum
  • Plant 1: Taxus baccata

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    The specimens at the Oxford herbaria and the living collections of the Oxford Botanic Garden and Oxford University Herbaria are being digitized using BRAHMS.


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