Red passion flowers, blazing joyfully in the early January sunshine during our visit to Florida, looked for all the world like a miracle to my Northern English eyes, tuned in to consider a single early snowdrop a delight.
It’s a bit of a minefield making sure which of the various scarlet red passionflowers you have before you. Passiflora vitifolia gets its name from the vine-shaped foliage. As its folk name is The Perfumed Passionflower you might expect me to have something to report about its fragrance but, not associating passionflowers with fragrance, it didn’t cross my mind to sniff it. It’s a vigorous vine when happy, able to reach 6 m (20 ft) if its surroundings force it to climb to reach sunlight. This smaller one was able to bask in the sunshine along a fence in the Naples Botanical Garden’s Brazilian Garden.
Passion flowers wow us with their intricate forms, even when their colours are relatively drab. This overhead view of a red passion flower could almost be a lesson in botany.
Three red-speckled styles that end in pale stigmas arch elegantly over at the top of the flower. The structure appears to balance on a creamy ovary in the centre, directly below; underneath that, five speckled filaments with green, pollen-bearing anthers attached. The pollen is held underneath – you can just glimpse it on the outer edges. Next, rings of eyelash-style filaments: long, dark red ones, with shorter ones in the middle, designed to make pollinators work hard enough for their nectar to withdraw with pollen on their backs (or heads, in the case of humming birds).
Underneath all that, five true petals, with five outer sepals beneath and between, all ten recurving backwards. My personal take on their colour? It’s the classic British fire engine red, more often described as crimson or scarlet.
Given its vine-like foliage, it would seem apt if this miraculous little plant went on to produce tiny bunches of grapes. Instead the fruits resemble dainty melons that some people describe as tasting like sour strawberries and others say are poisonous. It would be wise not to sample them unless you’re an expert.