Dear Readers, I have always been fascinated by the flowers of this plant. What on earth is going on? Away from those waxy white petals there are those blue spikey things, which always remind me a little of porcupine quills, and then that strange arrangement of five boat-shaped things and three kidney-shaped things in the middle. Humans being humans, we have attached all kinds of symbolism to the flower.
In Christian iconography, the blooms are said to contain all the instruments of the Passion – the three stigma are thought to represent the three nails that held Christ to the cross, the tendrils of the plant are the whips that were used to scourge Him, and the 5 anthers are the five wounds. However, in Japan, Israel and Greece that plant is called ‘Clockflower’ because the there are twelve petals, the tendrils reminded people of the inner workings of a clock, and there’s something that looks like the winding mechanism in the middle.
In India blue passionflower is known as Krishnakamala, with the centre representing Krishna, and the radiating blue filaments representing his aura.
In short, it’s hard to look at the flower without attaching some symbolism to it.
Blue passionflower (Passiflora caerulea), the commonest cultivated species in the UK, is a vigorous vine that often looks a little tatty at this time of year. It comes originally from South America, and later in the year will be hung with bright orange fruits that look most appetising, but taste very insipid.The wrinkly brown fruits that you can buy in the greengrocer come from a related species, Passiflora edulis, and are among my very favourite things to eat.
A tea can be made from the flowers of the blue passionflower, which is said to aid sleep – the word ‘passion’ is all about the Passion of Christ rather than anything romantic, and the plant is said to calm you down rather than get you going. The leaves contain cyanide, so I wouldn’t be nibbling on these if I was you.
Blue passionflower is listed as one of the RHS ‘thugs’ (much like the Japanese Anemones that I talked about last week) and has naturalised in several countries, including Spain, though it is not such a problem in the UK, especially not when compared to Russian Vine
The flowers of the Passiflora tend to be pollinated by very specific groups of animals. ‘Our’ passionflower is cross-pollinated by bumblebees. Some species, however, are linked together even more closely: the sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) is the sole pollinator of 37 separate species of Andean passionflower, especially Passiflora mixta.This is the only bird which has a beak longer than its body, and the plant has an especially long corolla which only this species can exploit. This is a splendid example of co-evolution, and also an illustration of the risks of this as a biological strategy: if the plant becomes extinct, so will the bird.
There are several cultivated varieties of blue passionflower, including a pure white one called ‘Constance Elliott’. I’m not sure how it is an improvement over the blue one, but then I always did have extravagant tastes.
For our poem this week, I would like to present to you that hoary old chestnut ‘Come Into the Garden, Maud’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson. This is a poem that rewards close attention for, far from being romantic there is something deeply sinister about it. The poet is waiting in the garden for Maud to return – she has been at a dance, to which he has not been invited. He seems to think that he is the only one in the world for her, and his thoughts have all the obsessive monomania of a stalker. I find the mention of her ‘little head, sunning over with curls’ rather troubling. And then, he mentions the passionflower, with which has dropped a ‘splendid tear’ for the death of Christ, and seems to think that his plight is comparable. Run away, Maud! Or at least keep your pepper spray handy.
from Maud (Part I)
Photo One by By No machine-readable author provided. Taka assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=360496
Photo Two by By Michael Woodruff from Spokane, Washington, USA – Sword-billed Hummingbird, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5165020
Photo Three by By Kelly Cookson from Lafayette, USA – Various Views…Uploaded by uleli, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22953221