Saturday, August 23, 2014

Maypops

A Passion or Apricot Vine with a flower and green fruit.

     One of my favorite vines and prettiest of wildflowers is the Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). It goes by quite a few common names: Maypop (because of the popping sound the fruits make when stepped on), Mollypop, Pop-apple, Apricot Vine (due to the tasty fruits), Granadilla ( in Spanish), Maracuya (in Spanish),  Maycock, Wild Apricot, Ocoee (a Cherokee name, also applied to a river, because of the fruit), Holy-trinity Flower, and Passion Vine (more on the use of the word "passion" in a follow-up blog). The tropical looking plant with 3 inch lavender blooms (which occasionally are white) is the state wildflower of Tennessee. 

The beautiful Passionflower itself.

     This is one of the two northernmost perennial native passion vines (the other is the smaller and less showy Yellow Passionfower, Passiflora lutea), but is nearing the edge of its range in our region. It can grow 25' in one season, but is usually half that size, either sprawling on the ground or climbing using its tendrils. In our area it dies back to the ground each season and is a late starter, but grows quite rapidly once it gets going. Purple Passionflower prefers sunny locations, but can stand a bit of shade as well. This affects how many flowers it makes and how late it blooms however. It may not fruit reliably every year, but spreads quite readily by producing suckers up to 10' away from the previous year's plants. Although a beautiful, tropical looking flower, this needs to be kept in mind by those wishing to include it in their gardens. 

A ripe Maypop, note the dark seeds once the pulp is removed.

     Some people may be familiar with the tropical passion fruits which are often used in breakfast drinks. The fruits (berries in botanical terms actually) themselves are quite tasty, and our native Purple Passionflower fruit has a very similar taste. Indeed, its edibility led to its name of Apricot Vine. The superb taste even led naturalist John Muir to declare it "the most delicious fruit I have ever eaten." The fruits are edible once they start turning yellowish, fall off the vine easily, have a rich aroma, and are about the size of chicken eggs. They may be a bit wrinkled at this time. The sure test is to split one open, look for dark seeds buried in aromatic, juicy pulp, and of course taste it! 

A few Maypops I collected. 

     The fruits can also be made into juice, wine, pies, jam, even smoothies by enterprising souls. Both the pulp and seeds can be consumed. My wife makes some great, refreshing juice from them, much like she did in her home country of El Salvador with their native species.The leaves have been used as teas (as their tropical relatives still are) and are said to have quite a sedative effect, being used to treat nerves, insomnia, and stress to this day. Parts were even used as an aphrodisiac. In Bermuda, some used it as a perfume base. The Cherokee used an infusion of the crushed roots to treat boils, thorns/spines, and even poured it into ears for aches. 

A batch of Passion juice my wife has prepared, ready for the pouring. 

     The flowers truly standout, not just to us, but to wildlife. They are usually covered in bees, especially bumblebees and carpenter bees. The plant itself serves as a host plant (caterpillar food) for a variety of butterflies such as Gulf Fritillaries, and the various Longwing butterflies (Zebras, Julias, etc.) which rarely get to our region. Locally, the Variegated Fritillary uses it as an alternate host. Five species in total have been recorded in North America. Of course, all sorts of critters eat the fruit as well. 

Bumblebees and Carpenter Bees tend to be the main pollinators in our region.

     This truly is one of my favorite all around plants: beautiful, tasty, and important for wildlife. What more can you ask for?

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