Orange Passionflowers

‘Wombat lived in a small house under the shadow of a tall ghost gum.

Perfumes from his garden of orange passionflowers and pink boronias filled the air. ‘

A.K.A. Blunt-leaved passionfruit Native passionfruit Red passionflower

Botantical Name:   Passiflora Aurantia (Passiflora comes from the Greek passio, meaning passion, which refers to the ‘passion of Christ’. If you look at Passionflower species found elsewhere, the choice of name is easier to understand as the busier, more intricate varieties obviously reminded someone of the crown of thorns. Aurantia comes from the Latin word aurantius, which means orange coloured.)

The Orange Passionflower found in Wombat’s garden is one of two native passionfruit plant species found in Australia. This plant occurs naturally from north-eastern New South Wales up to north Queensland, and grows on the edges of the rainforest or in sandy loam soils where nutrients are low.  It is common in Cairns.

This plant is a climber. Its slender vine develops wonderful curly bits to help it grab on to other plants and branches. Its green leaves are flat, with three shallow rounded lobed ends, and grow up to 7cm long.

The flowers are about 4-8 cm in diameter. When they first start to open the petals are creamy in colour before gradually turning to pink and then orangey red over a 3-7 day period; the flowers never open completely before falling off. The flowers on one plant will all bloom at different times, so all the stages of the colour variations can be seen together when the plant is in flower. This plant flowers mainly in Winter and Spring, but does produce some flowers all year round.

From the flower comes the green round fruit. The pulp is greyish in colour and filled with black seeds, each about 3mm x 2mm. The fruit turns slightly purple when ripe. The pulp is edible, but apparently it doesn’t taste very nice.

Butterflies, bees and some birds are attracted to the Passionflower. It provides good shelter for small birds and a bridge between the lower and higher plants.

You can grow Orange Passionflowers in temperate climates. They do quite well both indoors and out, in full sun to semi-shade, but they don’t like the frost. Plant in fairly rich soils with average drainage. If you feed your Passionflower too much nitrogen, it won’t flower. You can plant it from seeds or from new growth cuttings. If growing from seeds, clean and dry the seeds from very overripe but unblemished fruits. The seeds and seedling are available from various on-line nurseries.

Though there are only two native Passionflower species in Australia, another four six species are found in this country. There are about 500 species globally. The non-native Australian species were introduced as ornamental flowers, and of course the common Passionfruit was introduced for its fruit. The bad species that cause problems are Corky Passionflower (Passiflora suberosa), Stinking Passionsfruit (Passiflora foetida) and White Passionflower (Passiflora subpeltata). Although we would not like to eat their fruit, some birds and animals do, and this has helped to spread these environmental weeds around, smothering native vegetation. The Australian native varieties are not invasive and don’t smother other plants.

Passiflora Aurantia was one of the native Australian plants included in the Botanical illustrations from the voyage of HMS Endeavour (1776-1771). Artist Sydney Parkinson recorded most of the flora and fauna from this voyage. Sadly, he passed away at sea, but after the voyage other artists back in England embellished his sketches, under Sir Joseph Banks’ guidance and sponsorship, into wonderful engravings using Parkinson’s work as reference.

Passiflora Aurantia engraving
Caption on botanical Illustration from the Voyage of HMS Endeavour: “S. Parkinson del. 1770 / F.P. Nodder pinx.1780 / Plate 134 / D.MacKenzie sculps. / “PASSIFLORA AURANTIA… / Thirsty Sound, Australia / 29 May- 31 May 1770′ The specimen for this engraving came from Thirsty Sound on the Queensland coast. (about 500km north of Brisbane) Notes from the voyage:

‘May 29th 1770 ….   Anchored at Thirsty Sound [Town of 1770] and spent one night on the ship and landed searching for water but none found. Banks was enthused with all the botany and much impressed by the butterflies.’

It is interesting the butterflies are mentioned, as the Passionflower plant is a favourite food plant for the larvae of the Cruiser and Glasswing butterflies. Butterflies, bees and some birds are attracted to the Passionflower, and it’s a food plant for the larva of the Cruiser and other butterflies. CONSERVATION STATUS
Passiflora Aurantia still thrives, and is not considered to be at risk in the wild.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 4.04.25 pm Passiflora Aurantia engraving Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 4.03.26 pm


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