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Passiflora edulis Sims 1818 cv. ‘Golden Giant’
pronounced: pass-ih-FLOR-uh ED-yew-liss
(Passifloraceae – the passionfruit family)
common names: Passionfruit, Yellow Passionfruit
Passiflora is from the Latin passio, passion, and flora, a flower. Edulis is Latin for ‘edible’, which is not to say that some of the native passion fruits are not edible. It is Passiflora edulis cultivars that are grown for eating, both commercially and in back gardens. The ‘Golden Giant’ cultivar was developed in Australia.
The name ‘passion’ was first given to these plants by Roman Catholic missionaries in South America, who saw in them a way of illustrating the Crucifixion. The three stigmas of the flower represented the three nails in Jesus’ hands and feet. The threads of the flower symbolized the Crown of Thorns. The tendrils of the vine were likened to the whips used to scourge Jesus. The five anthers represented the five wounds. The ten petals and sepals represented the Apostles, excluding Peter and Judas.
Passiflora edulis is native to Paraguay, Brazil and parts of Argentina. The two types generally grown here are the purple-skinned cultivar (Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa†) that ripens with a wrinkled skin (mostly sold for eating) and the ‘Golden Giant’, which ripens with a yellow, thicker skin, and is mainly used for juice production.
When I was a boy, many back-yard growers produced various types of granadilla‡, particularly a giant variety whose fruits, tending to be ovoid in shape, reached 20 cm or more in length. I have not seen these for years. One of my childhood memories is of my father hand-pollinating the granadilla flowers with a feather. Passion fruit pollination can be tricky. Bees will not work the flowers during heavy rain; in any case, moisture often causes the pollen grains to split. Pollen germination will generally only take place at temperatures between 20 and 35ºC, and extended periods of overcast weather may cause flower drop before pollination has occurred.
The passion fruit is a vigorous climbing vine that clings by tendrils to almost any support. The evergreen leaves are alternate, deeply 3-lobed when mature, and finely toothed. They are 7.5–20 cm long, deep green and glossy above, paler and dull beneath. The leaves, and also the young stems and tendrils, may be tinged with red or purple. The flowers are borne singly at each node on the new growth. They are up to 7.5 cm in diameter, clasped by 3 large green bracts, have 5 greenish white sepals, 5 white petals, and a fringe-like corona of straight, white-tipped rays, rich purple at the base. There are 5 stamens with large anthers; the ovary and 3-branched style forming a prominent central structure. Purple passion fruit is self-pollinating, but those of the yellow form are self-sterile, and must be cross-pollinated. The nearly-spherical fruit, usually about 6 cm in diameter, has a tough rind. Within, the cavity is more-or-less filled with an aromatic mass of double-walled, membranous sacs containing orange-coloured pulpy juice and as many as 250 small hard dark brown or black pitted seeds. The unique flavour is appealing, musky, and tends to be tart.
Passionfruit usage varies considerably between countries. In Australia, fresh passionfruit is added to fruit salads, and fresh fruit pulp or passionfruit sauce is commonly used in desserts (especially pavlova) and with ice cream. A passionfruit-flavoured soft drink is also very popular.
The larvae of the Sugarcane Bud Moth Opogona glycyphaga will feed on this plant.
† f. is the abbreviation for forma. This is a botanical category ranking below a variety and differing only trivially from other related forms, such as in flower colour
‡ in South Africa, all types of passionfruit are called granadilla
Photographs taken 2010, 2012, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 1st February 2018