Wednesday Weed – Passionflower

Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea)

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.

Passionflower bud

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.

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,

Fruit of the blue passionflower (Photo One)

Passiflora edulis, which produces ‘proper’ passionfruit (Public Domain)

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.

Photo Two by By Michael Woodruff from Spokane, Washington, USA - Sword-billed Hummingbird, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) with Passiflora mixta bloom (Photo Two)

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.

Photo Three by By Kelly Cookson from Lafayette, USA - Various Views...Uploaded by uleli, CC BY-SA 2.0,

White passionflower ‘Constance Elliott’ (Photo Three)

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)

A Monodrama
Come into the garden, Maud,
      For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
      I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
      And the musk of the rose is blown.
   For a breeze of morning moves,
      And the planet of Love is on high,
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves
      In a bed of daffodil sky,
To faint in the light of the sun she loves,
      To faint in his light, and to die.
   All night have the roses heard
      The flute, violin, bassoon;
All night has the casement jessamine stirr’d
      To the dancers dancing in tune;
Till a silence fell with the waking bird,
      And a hush with the setting moon.
   I said to the lily, “There is but one
      With whom she has heart to be gay.
When will the dancers leave her alone?
      She is weary of dance and play.”
Now half to the setting moon are gone,
      And half to the rising day;
Low on the sand and loud on the stone
      The last wheel echoes away.
   I said to the rose, “The brief night goes
      In babble and revel and wine.
O young lord-lover, what sighs are those,
      For one that will never be thine?
But mine, but mine,” so I sware to the rose,
      “For ever and ever, mine.”
   And the soul of the rose went into my blood,
      As the music clash’d in the hall;
And long by the garden lake I stood,
      For I heard your rivulet fall
From the lake to the meadow and on to the wood,
      Our wood, that is dearer than all;
   From the meadow your walks have left so sweet
      That whenever a March-wind sighs
He sets the jewel-print of your feet
      In violets blue as your eyes,
To the woody hollows in which we meet
      And the valleys of Paradise.
   The slender acacia would not shake
      One long milk-bloom on the tree;
The white lake-blossom fell into the lake
      As the pimpernel dozed on the lea;
But the rose was awake all night for your sake,
      Knowing your promise to me;
The lilies and roses were all awake,
      They sigh’d for the dawn and thee.
   Queen rose of the rosebud garden of girls,
      Come hither, the dances are done,
In gloss of satin and glimmer of pearls,
      Queen lily and rose in one;
Shine out, little head, sunning over with curls,
      To the flowers, and be their sun.
   There has fallen a splendid tear
      From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
      She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, “She is near, she is near;”
      And the white rose weeps, “She is late;”
The larkspur listens, “I hear, I hear;”
      And the lily whispers, “I wait.”
   She is coming, my own, my sweet;
      Were it ever so airy a tread,
My heart would hear her and beat,
      Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
      Had I lain for a century dead,
Would start and tremble under her feet,
      And blossom in purple and red.


Photo Credits

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,

Photo Two by By Michael Woodruff from Spokane, Washington, USA – Sword-billed Hummingbird, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Photo Three by By Kelly Cookson from Lafayette, USA – Various Views…Uploaded by uleli, CC BY-SA 2.0,

9 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Passionflower

  1. Sarah Ann Bronkhorst

    At least Browning knew what a creepy obsessional man he’d created in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. I suspect Tennyson was so caught up in the music and rapture of the poem that he didn’t realise how its speaker might come across to us today. Yes, girlie, RUN.

    1. Bug Woman

      Yep, there’s a very interesting analysis of the poem which points up all the ways in which this guy is more the obsessed monomaniac than romantic lover (though our culture sometimes conflates the two…)

  2. tonytomeo

    I was told that the three stigma represent the Holy Trinity. I thought that the quills looked like those fake eyelashes that were popular when I was a little kid. The old fashioned common passion fruit vine can be annoyingly invasive and difficult to kill. Most of us who have them growing in our gardens just tolerate them. It is easier than trying to kill them. My colleague in Southern California had to contend with one at his parent’s home that survived from when the the neighborhood was a passion fruit plantation. That was more than a century ago!

    1. Bug Woman

      That must have been some vine! Yep, over here the passionflower vine always looks a bit straggly and yellow-leaved for my taste, but the flowers are spectacular. I know what you mean about the false eyelashes…

      1. tonytomeo

        It was a resilient vine, or at least the roots were resilient. The vine itself was not all that impressive. It was pulled out annually, so never got too big. We tried to dig it out, but never got to the bottom of it. It seemed to be under the foundation of the house. Passion fruit vines seem to survive better in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood (adjacent to Los Angeles) than in other surrounding regions. It was not a particularly common fruit crop there. Most of the region grew annual vegetables like beans.

  3. Toffeeapple

    Lord Alfie do go on, don’t he?
    I have enjoyed reading this post which has (again) answered one of my questions which is – are the local ones edible? My neighbour has a fine crop of the fruit on his vine and he is on holiday until December – but I shall not bother now, thanks to you.

  4. Nan Quick

    Is there ANY subject that Alfred, Lord Tennyson DIDN’T write about…..he was certainly one busy
    Poet Laureate. I recognize your passionflower as the one we discovered in the
    Walled Garden, at Felbrigg Hall, in Norfolk; that was my first real-life encounter with this
    beautifully improbable blossom (and, in profile, the bloom is even MORE unlikely).

    1. Bug Woman

      You’re right, Tennyson was one of those Victorian gentlemen who seemed to have superpowers in terms of his prodigious output and variety of interests. Where are they now I wonder, the Dickens and the Morrises and the Tennysons?


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