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passionflower, any plant of the genus Passiflora, mostly tropical American vines having pulpy fruits. Some species are grown in greenhouses for their large, unusual flowers of various colors; those seen by early Spanish settlers were interpreted as symbolic of the Crucifixion (whence the name), the 10 petals and sepals, fringed corona, five stamens, three styles, and coiling tendrils representing in order the 10 faithful apostles, crown of thorns, wounds, nails, and scourges. The most common native North American species (P. incarnata), ranging as far north as Missouri and Pennsylvania, has purple-and-white flowers and edible egg-shaped fruits called maypops. Several species of the large-fruited granadillas are cultivated commercially in the tropics for fruit, flavoring, and beverages. Passionflowers are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Violales, family Passifloraceae.
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Christ's Bouquet, Christ's Crown, Crown of Thorns,
Jesus' Passion, Maypop, Mother-of-God's Star,
Our Lord's Flower

The passionflower hails from the tropical zones of South and North America. Known to botanists by the scientific name Passiflora, the passionflower has acquired many other folk names, many of which refer in some way to the Easter story. These names include passionflower, Jesus' passion, Christ's bouquet, Our Lord's flower, crown of thorns, Christ's crown, maypop, and Mother-of-God's star. In the sixteenth century Spanish missionaries who had journeyed to the New World (the Americas) along with the conquistadors saw this plant for the first time and marveled at its beauty. These religious men named the new specimen "passionflower" because they perceived many symbols of Jesus'passion, that is, the story of the last days of his life, in its large, colorful blossoms. For example, they interpreted the flower's ten petals as symbols of the ten loyal apostles. This reckoning excluded the apostle Judas who betrayed Jesus, and the apostle Peter, who denied him.

The passionflower raises a striking corona, often red in color, above the center corolla. This reminded the missionaries of the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head by the Roman guards. Some said that the numerous long, thread-like divisions of the corona represented the 72 thorns of the crown. Others felt that they represented the countless followers of Jesus. The flower's five stamens suggested the five wounds that Jesus received on the cross. The three styles at the center of the flower symbolized the three nails used to crucify him. The blossom's single ovary was said to represent either the vinegarsoaked sponge that Jesus was offered on the cross, or the single hammer used to drive in the nails.

Further Reading

Ewert, Neil. The Lore of Flowers. Poole, Dorset, England: Blandford Press, 1982. Lehner, Ernst, and Johanna Lehner. Folkore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees. 1960. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter Garland. 1963. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1999.

Web Site

A commercial site offering botanical information and results of scientific research concerning the passionflower, print references, and further web links:
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002
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The whole plant, including the fruit and amazing-looking flower are edible. 10 white petals with purple corona of multicolored rays, 5 stamens, and a pistil with 3 stigmas. Flowers have lots of purple threads radiating out underneath. There are different types of passionflower, and the egg shaped & sized fruits vary. One is an orange color with red gooey seeds inside (Passiflora caerulea). The other is green when ripe and contains strange seeds individually wrapped in a clear sac. (Maypop, Passiflora incarnata) Make tea from the flowers to relax, restful sleep. The whole plant is used as an antispasmotic and relaxant for anxiety, nervous disorders, epilepsy, neuralgia, insomnia, painful menses, headaches, restlessness, nervous tension, sleeping problems, inflammation, lower blood pressure.
Edible Plant Guide © 2012 Markus Rothkranz


any passifloraceous plant of the tropical American genus Passiflora, cultivated for their red, yellow, greenish, or purple showy flowers: some species have edible fruit
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005