HOW TO GROW AND LOOK AFTER PASSI FLORA (passion flower)

There are about 300 species of passion flowers, and they have earned fame for several reasons. Many have extremely beautiful and unusual flowers. The structure of the flowers has been given religious significance, for which the early South American missionaries are said to be responsible. They identified the long structure at the centre of the flower (the gynandrophore) as the scourging post, the filament-like corona as the crown of thorns, the stamens as the live wounds, and the flat-headed stigmas as the three nails, all concerned with Christ’s passion.

A number of the species have delicious fruits which come on to the market from time to time, but generally do not keep or

travel well. They are usually of more importance in the countries where the plants grow naturally, and this means mostly warm climates. They are mostly vigorous climbers, but there are a ’ev shrubby, tree-like, and annual species. Some, such as P. quadrangularis, which gives flic fruit called granadilla. and is of exceptional beauty, make line climbers for a warm conservatory or greenhouse. Others can be used for a frost-free place. a few flowering in the first year from a spring sowing – but they need plenty of space and tend to be rampant and invasive.

The most popular species is undoubtedly P. caerulea. This is hardy outdoors in many parts of the country and will cover a south-facing wall with masses of its striking blooms when established. It also produces large, decorative, golden-

yellow inedible fruits. It is this species that so often appears in florists and is sold as a houseplant. It vividly shows the structure of the flower that has given rise to religious interpretations. As presented for growing in the home it is usually trained around a wire loop. The plants are usually grown in nurseries from cuttings taken from mature flowering plants. Plants grown from seed often take several years to mature and flower. especially in the case of this particular species. The flowers, which are about 7.5cm (3in) in diameter, continue from early summer to autumn. This species is from Brazil and needs a position in maximum light to flower well. In shaded places it may merely produce a rampant tangle of its vine-like leaves. During the summer months the plants can stand outside for a time. However, there usually comes a time when the plants will become a problem owing to their demand for space. It helps to keep the pots as small as possible, and to be very cautious over feeding. Balanced plant feeds should be given to maintain health and good leaf colour. but excessive feeding will only encourage the plant’s rampant nature. Plants will soon outgrow their wire loop. They can be potted-on into larger pots and given bamboo canes to climb up. They are useful for placing in picture-windows or by patio doors and will give pleasure for some time. Later, the plants can either be planted outdoors, preferably on a south-facing wall, or transferred to the wall of a sunny lean-to greenhouse or conservatory. The plant is relatively hardy, but the leaves are liable to deteriorate or fall during a winter chill. In cold positions it should be given little water, if any. during winter if planted in a conservatory border. Pot plants should be kept just slightly moist.

In summer – and for the growing period – plenty of water becomes necessary. During late winter or early spring the plants will usually need drastic pruning to keep them within bounds, more especially if they are house or conservatory grown.

Lateral shoots can be cut back to the main stem and the plant thinned. Usually. the true species of P. caerulea is preferred as a houseplant. This is blue and white. There is also a pure white form called ‘Constance Klliott’. and a few hybrids, but these are not so satisfactory grown in pots.

Passifloras have few pest troubles, but cucumber mosaic, a virus disease, can cause yellowing and mottling of the foliage during summer. Unfortunately. as yet there is no cure for this.

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