Passiflora foetida

stinking passion flower


Passiflora foetida

L. 1753

pronounced: pass-ih-FLOR-uh FET-ih-duh

(Passifloraceae — the passionfruit family)


common names: stinking passion flower, love-in-a-mist, wild maracuja

Passiflora comes from two Latin words, passio, passion, and flora, a flower; foetida comes from the Latin word for ‘stinking’.

This vine, which has become an invasive weed in many areas, is a creeper with an edible fruit, and leaves that have a mildly rank odour. It is native to northern South America and the West Indies, but has become naturalized in many other places, including Magnetic Island.

The stems are thin, wiry and woody, and covered with sticky yellow hairs. The leaves are alternate, 3- to 5-lobed, and viscid-hairy. They give off an unpleasant odour when crushed. The vine climbs with the aid of axillary tendrils.

The flowers are white to pale cream in colour, with a ring of purple towards the centre, and are about 5–6 cm in diameter, with 3 styles. They are subtended by 3 fringed bracts covered in sticky hairs. This is a very pretty flower.

The fruit is globose, 2 – 3 cm in diameter, yellowish orange to red when ripe, and has numerous black seeds embedded in the pulp. the fruits are surrounded by the bracts and bractioles. The fruit is eaten by birds, who disperse the seeds.

The sticky hairs on the bracts of this plant trap insects, but opinion seems to be divided as to whether the plant digests and gains nourishment from the trapped insects, or merely uses its bracts as a defensive mechanism to protect its flowers and fruit.

The fruits are edible, mildly sweet and delicately flavoured, and taste very much like the normal passionfruit from Passiflora edulis. Young leaves and plant tips are also edible. A tea is made from dry leaves, and used in Vietnamese folk medicine to relieve sleeping problems. A similar tea is used in Suriname’s traditional medicine as an expectorant and for nervous disorders.

Most of the members of the Passiflora genus are not only important sources of nectar for many insects, but have leaves that supply the food for various moths and butterflies. Passiflora foetida is host to the caterpillar of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, but, as far as I know, this butterfly is not found in Australia. The Australian Fritillary caterpillar appears to feed on native violets. To prevent butterflies from laying too many eggs on a single plant, some passion flowers bear small coloured lumps that resemble butterfly eggs, and appear to fool the butterflies into believing that there are already enough eggs there. The caterpillars of the Glasswing butterfly Acraea andromacha feed on the leaves of this species.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken 2009, 2011, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 18th February 2019