Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

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Botanical Symbols of the Season – Part II December 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 6:00 am
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Passionflower (Passiflora spp.)

In the home landscape, Passiflora species are important nectar sources for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. They also serve as larval host plants for many butterfly species, especially longwing butterflies. The zebra longwing, the state butterfly of Florida, prefers yellow passionflower (P. lutea), two-flowered passionflower (P. biflora) and corky-stemmed passionflower (P. suberosa). The gulf fritillary butterfly feeds on yellow passionflower, stinking passionflower (P. foetida) and maypop (P. incarnata).

Passionflower vines are great climbing plants and will use their tendrils to hold onto anything with which they come in contact. Arbors and trellises are perfect supports for these wonderful vines. In south Florida, these plants bloom on and off all year long. In central and north Florida, passionflower vines will bloom in the warmer months, but a cold winter might cause some dieback.

Contrary to popular belief, the “passion” in passionflower does not refer to love and sexuality, but rather to the passion of Christ. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries capitalized on the unique physical structures of this plant to teach about the last days of Jesus Christ, and the crucifixion in particular. The pointed tips of the leaves represent the Holy Lance, and the coiling tendrils symbolize the whips used in the flagellation of Christ.

The flower bears ten petals and sepals, which represent the ten faithful apostles (remember, Peter denied Christ and Judas betrayed Him). There are also radial filaments on the flower, which represent the crown of thorns. The ovary of this plant is chalice-shaped and thus represents the Holy Grail. Finally, the 3 stigmas symbolize the 3 nails used, and the 5 anthers symbolize the 5 stigmata (4 wounds from the nails and 1 from the lance).

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