Shawnee News-Star Gardening July 10 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg The maypops are forming.  Why are these round green balls hanging off vines growing along fences or outside trees at the edge of woods called maypops?  Simple.  They pop under foot when stepped on.  This fruit of the passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata) when fully mature begins […]

Shawnee News-Star Gardening July 10 2019

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The maypops are forming. Why are these round green balls hanging off vines growing along fencesor outside trees at the edge of woods called maypops?  Simple. They pop under foot when stepped on. This fruit of the passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata) when fullymature begins to shrivel and the bright green color takes on a yellowtinge.  Peel off rind, pull apart orslice the pop in half, scoop out the pulpy seeds. Suck off the pulp then eatthe seeds.  Similar to eating around apersimmon seed, but not the actual seed unless you are a deer or one of theother 28 wildlife species that love persimmons. Maypop connoisseurs say thegreen maypops are better cooked, but the ripe yellow ones are best eatenraw.  The flavor is somewhere between anapricot and guava. 

Most passion flower species are neotropical, but we do have twosubtropical species that grow wild in Oklahoma. Our purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is one of the toughestpassionflowers in the 550 or so species in the Passifloraceae family.  It grows throughout the eastern US and is thestate wildflower of Tennessee. This hardy perennial bears complex flowers thatbegin blooming in July along woody vines that ramble 30 feet.  The leaves are usually three lobed.  The caterpillars of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly(dark orange with black spines) specifically eat only the leaves of both thepurple and stinking passionflower.  Zebralongwing larvae (white caterpillars with black dots and spines) feed mainly onpassion vines.  The Variegated Fritillarycaterpillar (orange and white stripes with black spines) is not so picky andcan also be found munching on purslane, moonseed and other plants.  

Root systems run deep and sometimes as far as 20 feet awayfrom the mother plant.  The passionate plantsgrow in abandoned fields, along railroads, and in thickets, but not withinforests or wet areas.  They areconsidered grassland biome inhabitants (other major biomes are tundra, forest,aquatic and desert).  A biome:  Large natural population of plants andanimals that occupy a habitat, like a grassland.  Passionflowers can be propagated from seedsor cuttings.  Expect 2-3 years beforeflowers and fruit.

Each 2' to 3' passionflower 'flower' has five green sepalsthat support the lavender, blue or white petals.  Above the petals is a ring of colorful fringecalled the corolla.  The five malestamens rise above and fan out like spokes of a car wheel. The talleststructure in the middle is the all-important ovary with three styles, each witha sticky stigma to receive pollen.  The purplepassionflower can be self-fertile, but needs humid days and pollinators. Thepollen is heavy and sticky.  Carpenterbees are more efficient pollinators than honey bees, but bumblebees,hummingbirds, wasps and even bats participate. 

The yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) is anotherspecies of passion flower that grows in Oklahoma.  This is not self-fertile nor showy.  It somewhat resembles the wild creeping cucumbervine Melothria pendula. Yellow passionflowers are small and, well, yellow-greento white in color.   The creeping cucumber has small yellow flowers.  Both plants produce black fruit.  The passion flower fruit has been used tomake ink, but the cucumber fruit is the mother of all laxatives. Use your noseto tell the difference because the cucumber vine smells like a cucumber.  

Cool thing about the yellow passionflower is it has its own devotedsmall black bee, the passionflower bee, that only collects pollen from theyellow passionflower. That's it. It's a solitary bee. The tiny rare beecollects nectar and pollen to feed its larvae in the underground nest but seemsnot pollinate the yellow flowers!  Thattask belongs to other pollinators. 

Passiflora edulis is a light purple South Americanpassionflower.  The seed pods are thesecret ingredient used to flavor Hawaiian Punch! The Columbian Passifloraparritae has brilliant red blooms but is facing extinction. Hummingbirdpollinators are moving to higher altitudes as the climate changes. Thenight-blooming Passiflora mucronate (SE Brazil) produces 4' white flowerspollinated by bats.  In the southwest US,leaves of Passiflora foetida truly stink if damaged, but are coated in a thicksticky layer with digestive enzymes that can trap and (use your imagination)insects and small animals (think Venus flytrap).

Passion flower was the name used by 17th century Catholicpriests in Peru in an attempt to relate the familiar flower's cross shape and crownof thorns to the religion. Maypop comes from Powhatan maracock.  Powhatans were Algonquin people of Virginiaand some of their words you may know: opossum, hickory, terrapin, tomahawk andraccoon.

Passionflower concoctions have medicinal properties as a diuretic,sedative, anti-inflammatory and treatment for insomnia. Purple passionflowercontains crisin, a chemical that enhances testosterone level, so one could sayit is a guy aphrodisiac.

Try your hand at growing a maypop.  It's worth the wait.