Passiflora incarnata, also known as the Purple Passionflower or Maypop, is a fruit –bearing perennial vine common to the southeast United States. Though often considered a weed in its native habitat, the plant is used in horticultural applications due to its fast-growing vines and uniquely beautiful flowers. These white-to-purple summer-blooming flowers have a very interesting structure, including a showy corona, and grow to 2-3 inches in diameter. The fruit, also referred to as a Maypop for the sound it makes when stepped upon, is approximately the size of a chicken egg, and turns from green to orange as it ripens. The vines can grow from 6 to 25 feet long, but generally don’t climb higher than 8 feet tall.
Passionflowers are primary producers native to temperate deciduous forests. They are pollinated by bees, and are self-sterile. The fruit is commonly eaten by animals, including songbirds, which helps to distribute the seeds. The fruits are also an important larval food for some species of butterfly. Maypop fruits are similar to their relative the Passion Fruit, P. edulis, and can be eaten raw or made into jam or jelly. Native Americans traditionally used P. incarnata for its sedative and anxioltyic properties, in addition to eating the sweet fruit. These medicinal uses have been expanded upon in recent years, with P. incarnata extracts being shown to treat withdrawal symptoms and exhibit an aphrodisiac effect, in addition to the plant’s traditional effects being confirmed through various scientific means. Further research is being done to uncover the specific compounds responsible for these properties, so that they can be more effectively used for pharmaceutical applications.
General: Passionflower Family (Passifloraceae). Purple passionflower is a native, perennial vine. The slightly pubescent vines climb with tendrils that arise from the axils of the leaves. The vines can range from 2 to 6 m long. The alternate leaves (6 to 15 cm long and wide) are palmate with 3 lobes and finely serrated margins. The spectacular flowers are pale-lavender or, rarely, white, with five petals (3 to 4 cm long, 4 to 7 mm wide) and five sepals (2.5 to 3.5 cm long). The complex flower has a “crown” or corona of numerous fringelike segments that arise from above the petals. The corona is white or lavender with purple bands. The reproductive parts are interestingly arranged and add to the exotic beauty of the flower. The unique appearance of the flowers was purported, by early Spanish explorers, to represent the sufferings of Christ (for a detailed description see Coffey 1993). The plants bloom from June to September. Sweet-smelling, yellowish fruits develop in two to three months after flowering and may be harvested from July to October. The pulpy fruit, or “maypop”, is large and oval, about the size of a hen’s egg (4 to 10 cm long). The fruit contains many flattened, dark-colored seeds (4 to 6 mm long) that are covered with an arillate pulp, which is the edible portion of the fruit.
Distribution: For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Habitat: Purple passionflower is common in open or cultivated fields, rocky slopes, thin woods, roadsides, fencerows and thickets.
Wild passionflower, maypop, apricot vine, old field apricot, Holy-Trinity flower, mayapple, molly-pop, passion vine, pop-apple, granadilla, maycock, maracoc, maracock, white sarsaparilla.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Passiflora incarnata is native to the south-eastern United States. Specimens have been found across the eastern half of the US, as far north as Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; however, it becomes vastly more common as one moves farther south (Orick, 2008).
Passiflora incarnata are native to temperate deciduous forests, growing best in open areas with fertile soil. They can grow in areas of partial shade, but require at least a half day’s worth of direct sunlight. The vines are able to trail along the ground in fields, or they can climb fences or larger plants in forested areas.
Purple passionflowers require direct sunlight for at least half of the day. The plants prefer fertile, well-drained soils but will grow in heavier clay soils. Pick a spot in the garden where the plants may either climb or spread freely. The plants may be propagated from seed or by cuttings. Seeds should be collected in the fall after the fruit has begun to shrivel. Mature seeds are brown in color with no traces of white. Wash the gelatinous covering from the seeds if they are to be stored for any length of time. It is best to plant the seeds directly into an outdoor seedbed. The seedlings may be transplanted after they have three or four leaves or, once established, they can be used to provide cuttings or divisions. Cuttings should be taken in the early spring. Remove the lower leaves from a 15 to 20 cm cutting before placing it in the rooting medium. Removing the suckers that develop around the established plants provides materials for propagating by division. With a shovel, separate and remove the suckers and roots. Transplant the divisions and water them immediately.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Purple Passionflower in Illinois
(Ants suck nectar from extra-floral nectaries at the base of the leaves and at the base of bracts underneath the flowers/buds; bees suck nectar and collect pollen from the flowers; observations are from Krombein et al. and McLain as indicated below)
Andrenidae (Panurginae): Anthemurgus passiflorae sn cp olg (Kr)
Formicidae: Camponotus nearcticus sn (McL), Crematogaster lineolata sn (McL), Forelius pruinosum sn (McL), Formica pallidefulva sn (McL), Solenopsis invicta sn (McL)
Life History and Behavior
Evolution and Systematics
Though the family Passifloraceae was originally thought to belong to the order Violales, recent reclassification places it in the order Malpighiales. The Passifloraceae family contains two tribes; the monophyletic Passifloreae tribe contains 14 genera, including Passiflora. When first described in detail, the genus Passiflora was said to contain 22 subgenera. Now, after more advanced phylogenetic research, Passiflora has been restructured to contain four subgenera of New World species. Passiflora also includes three distinct clades: Passiflora, Decaloba, and Astrophea. Passiflora incarnata is most closely related to P. edulis, the common Passion Fruit; these two plants make up their own monophyletic clade within the larger Passiflora clade (Muschner, 2003).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Passiflora incarnata
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Passiflora incarnata
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Passiflora incarnata L.
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values). Considered rare in some states.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
These plant materials are readily available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
This plant is listed as a invasive by several authoritative sources listed in the Plants Profile for this species at the PLANTS website. Please contact your local agricultural extension specialist or county weed specialist to learn what works best in your area and how to use it safely.
Always read the label and safety instructions for each control method. Trade names and control measures appear in this document only to provide specific information. USDA, NRCS does not guarantee or warranty the products and control methods named, and other products may be equally effective.
To control the spread of purple passionflower, remove the suckers regularly. The vines may be trained onto a trellis, fence or tree trunk.
This plant may become invasive in some regions or habitats and may displace desirable vegetation if not properly managed. Please consult with your local NRCS Field Office, Cooperative Extension Service office, or state natural resource or agriculture department regarding its status and use. Weed and invasive information is also available from the PLANTS Web site.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Though considered a weed in its native habitat, Passiflora incarnata has many uses. The species yields an edible fruit similar to their relative P. edulis, and can be eaten raw or made into jam or jelly. Various parts of the plant have long been used as a natural remedy for many different ailments, including burns and skin irritations, inflammation of the eyes, and muscle spasms due to asthma and epilepsy. The plant’s extracts have been shown to successfully treat anxiety, insomnia, and withdrawal symptoms in recent studies (Wikipedia, 2012). Passiflora incarnata is also planted for horticulture purposes, and the vines can be used in lieu of twine.
Ethnobotanic: The Houma, Cherokee and other Native American tribes used purple passionflower for food, drink, and medicinal purposes. Captain Smith, in 1612, reported that Native Americans in Virginia planted the vines for the fruits. The fruits were eaten either raw or boiled to make syrup. A beverage was made from the fruits by crushing and straining the juice. Sometimes the juice was thickened by mixing it with flour or cornmeal. The young shoots and leaves were eaten, cooked with other greens. The roots were used in an infusion to treat boils, and to “draw out inflammation” of wounds from briers or locusts. Babies were given a tea made from the roots to aid in weaning. The roots were beaten with warm water and used as eardrops to treat earaches. Root infusions were used to treat liver problems. Soaking the crushed roots in drinking water made a “blood tonic.” The plant was also used as a sedative to treat nervous conditions and hysteria.
Wildlife: Purple passionflowers attract butterflies.
Passiflora incarnata, commonly known as maypop, purple passionflower, true passionflower, wild apricot, and wild passion vine, is a fast-growing perennial vine with climbing or trailing stems. A member of the passionflower genus Passiflora, the maypop has large, intricate flowers with prominent styles and stamens. One of the hardiest species of passionflower, it is a common wildflower in the southern United States. The Cherokee in the Tennessee area called it ocoee; the Ocoee River and valley are named after this plant, which is the Tennessee State Wildflower. This, and other passionflowers are the exclusive larval host plants for the Gulf Fritillary and non-exclusive for the Variegated Fritillary butterflies.
The stems can be smooth or pubescent; they are long and trailing, possessing many tendrils. Leaves are alternate and palmately 3-lobed and occasionally 5-lobed, measuring 6–15 centimetres (2.4–5.9 in). They have two characteristic glands at the base of the blade on the petiole. Flowers have five bluish-white petals. They exhibit a white and purple corona, a structure of fine appendages between the petals and stamens. The large flower is typically arranged in a ring above the petals and sepals. They are pollinated by insects such as bumblebees and carpenter bees, and are self-sterile. The flower normally blooms in July.
The fleshy fruit, also referred to as a maypop, is an oval yellowish berry about the size of a hen egg; it is green at first, but then becomes orange as it matures. As with other passifloras, it is the larval food of a number of butterfly species, including the zebra longwing and Gulf fritillary. In many cases its fruit is very popular with wildlife.
The maypop occurs in thickets, disturbed areas, near riverbanks, and near unmowed pastures, roadsides, and railroads. It thrives in areas with lots of available sunlight. It is not found in shady areas beneath a forest canopy.
Traditionally, the fresh or dried whole plant has been used as a herbal medicine to treat nervous anxiety and insomnia. A small clinical study suggested that in the form of a tea it may improve the subjective quality of sleep. The dried, ground herb is frequently used in Europe by drinking a teaspoon of it in tea. A sedative chewing gum has even been produced. In cooking, the fruit of this variety is sometimes used for jam and jellies or as a substitute for its commercially grown South American relative Passiflora edulis – the fruit is of comparable size and juice yield. The fruit can be eaten out of hand and historically it was a favorite of colonial settlers of the South and Native Americans alike.
According to several studies conducted by Kamaldeep Dhawan et al., the methanol extract of P. incarnata demonstrates anxiolytic properties in the elevated plus-maze model of anxiety in mice. At a dosage of 10 mg/kg of the purified methanol extract, the anxiolytic effects were comparable to a 2 mg/kg of diazepam. The active constituent of this extract was identified by these researchers as a benzoflavone.
This putative benzoflavone moiety was also shown to significantly reduce symptoms of withdrawal from, and addiction and dependence of benzodiazepines, alcohol, morphine, nicotine and cannabis (specifically tetrahydrocannabinol, THC).
However an attempt to determine the structure of benzoflavone responsible for the effects reported by Dhawan was unable to isolate any such benzoflavone compound.
- "State Symbols". Tennessee Government. Retrieved October 24, 2011.
- Horn, compiled and edited by Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart ; technical editor: Thomas E. Hemmerly ; photo editors: David Duhl and Dennis (2005). Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians : the official field guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society. [Edmonton]: Lone Pine Pub. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-55105-428-5.
- Plants For A Future: Passiflora incarnata
- A. Ngan & R. Conduit (2011). "A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality". Phytotherapy Research 25 (8): 1153–1159. doi:10.1002/ptr.3400. PMID 21294203.
- Kamaldeep Dhawan, Suresh Kumar, Anupam Sharma (2001). "Anti-anxiety studies on extracts of Passiflora incarnata Linneaus [sic]". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 78 (2–3): 165–170. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(01)00339-7. PMID 11694362.
- Kamaldeep Dhawan, Sanju Dhawan & Sumit Chhabra (2004). "Attenuation of benzodiazepine dependence in mice by a tri-substituted benzoflavone moiety of Passiflora incarnata Linneaus [sic]: a non-habit forming anxiolytic" (PDF). Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 6 (2): 215–222. PMID 12935433.
- Kamaldeep Dhawan, Suresh Kumar & Anupam Sharma (2002). "Suppression of alcohol-cessation-oriented hyper-anxiety by the benzoflavone moiety of Passiflora incarnata Linneaus [sic] in mice". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 81 (2): 239–244. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(02)00086-7. PMID 12065157.
- Kamaldeep Dhawan, Suresh Kumar and Anupam Sharma (2002). "Reversal of morphine tolerance and dependence by Passiflora incarnata – a traditional medicine to combat morphine addiction". Pharmaceutical Biology 40 (8): 576–580. doi:10.1076/phbi.40.8.576.14660.
- Kamaldeep Dhawan, Suresh Kumar & Anupam Sharma (2002). "Nicotine reversal effects of the benzoflavone moiety from Passiflora incarnata Linneaus [sic] in mice". Addiction Biology 7 (4): 435–441. doi:10.1080/1355621021000006044. PMID 14578021.
- Kamaldeep Dhawan, Suresh Kumar & Anupam Sharma (2002). "Reversal of cannabinoids (Δ9-THC) by the benzoflavone moiety from methanol extract of Passiflora incarnata Linneaus [sic] in mice: a possible therapy for cannabinoid addiction". Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 54 (6): 875–881. doi:10.1211/0022357021779069. PMID 12079005.
- Kamaldeep Dhawan & Anupam Sharma (2002). "Antitussive activity of the methanol extract of Passiflora incarnata leaves". Fitoterapia 73 (5): 397–399. doi:10.1016/S0367-326X(02)00116-8. PMID 12165335.
- Kamaldeep Dhawan, Suresh Kumar & Anupam Sharma (2003). "Antiasthmatic activity of the methanol extract of leaves of Passiflora incarnata". Phytotherapy Research 17 (7): 821–822. doi:10.1002/ptr.1151. PMID 12916087.
- Holbik M et al (2010). "Apparently no sedative benzoflavone moiety in passiflorae herba.". Planta Medica. 76(7): 662–664.
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