Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pretty pictures: Passiflora spp.

I didn't get variety names for either of these, so I don't know what species or cultivar they are. You know how it is. They're still pretty either way.

It's occurred to me that most (all?) of the plant books I read as a kid, if they mentioned Passiflora, they would go into the whole thing about how the flower is emblematic of the crucifixion of Jesus. As Wikipedia puts it (in somewhat more detail than I would have anticipated):

Which, you know, hey, if you want to look at it like that, more power to you, I guess, but I find it weird that people can find stuff like that meaningful. I mean, when it comes right down to it, these are just some numbers, and some colors, and some fairly common shapes. One could call them "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" flowers, with as much justification:
  • The pointed tips of the leaves represent the stakes with which slayers kill vampires.
  • The tendrils represent the assorted monsters Buffy also kills, some of whom have tentacles.
  • The ten petals and sepals represent the ten characters who were part of the Scoobies during part of the show, but not the entire seven seasons: Oz (seasons 2-4), Tara (4-6), Anya (3-7), Cordelia (1-3), Giles (1-5, 7), Riley (4-5), Andrew (7), Angel (1-3), Spike (4-7), Dawn (5-7).
  • The flower's radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the 144 aired "Buffy" episodes.
  • The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents the Hellmouth below Sunnydale High School.
  • The 3 stigmas represent the core Scooby group (the three characters who were major cast members for all seven seasons), Buffy, Willow, and Xander, and the 5 anthers below them the 5 named slayers with speaking roles (Buffy, Kendra, Nikki, Faith, The First Slayer).
  • The red color of some varieties' flowers refer to the blood vampires drink.

Which, yeah, one could quibble with the details of the above (Faith and Joyce don't count as non-core Scoobies? The First Slayer counts as a named Slayer character but the Chinese slayer Spike kills doesn't? Etc.), but that's true of the Passion story too (how can a chalice represent a hammer?). Small numbers, colors, and simple shapes are all common enough things that whatever combination you have, there will be some parallels to something else, somewhere. Doesn't make it meaningful. Flowers have enough responsibilities already, without adding Professor of Theology (or Film Criticism) to the pile.


ScreamingGreenConure said...

I can't comment on how old this particular (interesting) plant-related superstition is, but it's not surprising at all that people would find it meaningful. Just look at the Doctrine of Signatures!

ScreamingGreenConure said...

(I know Wiki says it started 15th-16th century, but I don't trust that. It's amazing how easily the origins of superstitions and legends get exagerated).

Anonymous said...

I don't know what it is about these plants that I dislike so much - perhaps it was all this symbolic baggage that carries. (Mr.S., I'll bet you could work up a good story on "Last of the Mohicans"!)

I had a visitor one year, a Carib native american, who farmed these. It is apparently a very profitable crop - the fruit, that is. He'd never heard the superstition. Thought it was pretty weird.

Diana said...

Thank you. I've always liked Passiflora but really disliked the associated "imagery" from that superstition. Now I can look at the flowers and laugh!

Pat said...

I, too, will now remember the key elements of Buffyology whenever I see a Passiflora. That will be about ten minutes when I go to the conservatory and look at the NOID one from the incarnata-ish types very like your first picture. The nursery hadn't a clue what it was, which is part of the reason it was so cheap.

I used to have one called the Zombie Passionflower from Haiti, a delicate little thing with fruits that looked like boiled sweets. P. rubra, if I remember correctly. Perhaps that species represents the Resurrection of Christ from the dead? said...

I've had a love/hate relationship with my red passiflora over the past few years. Love... well obviously because it's an amazingly beautiful intricately designed flower. Hate, well that's such a strong word so let's just say exasperated... because it tried to take over everything in its path. I planted it at the base of a fence near the front of my property in Florida a few years ago, where it thrived and provided lots of bright red color. Then it got "fence fever", apparently bored with always being in the same place, so it decided to go on a bit of an adventure that took it all along the fence and up onto the top of the grapefruit tree in back. After our unusually cold winter of 2009/2010, all the foliage died back to the ground, so I cut it back and now it's starting the same itchy feet symptoms, venturing forth to unknown parts again, even after I removed its original roots. If you bring this plant home with you, make sure it has plenty of room to wander outward and upward, because it's going go roaming the neighborhood no matter how you feel about it.
Doug at

Pat said...

Definitely was 16th century at least as the quote following is from 1582, though 15th seems very sudden after the invasion of America by Europe. From the Oxford English Dictionary:

1582 N. MONARDES Simplic. Medicament. ex Novo Orbe 17 Elegans est cum fructu onusta conspicitur, propterius amplitudinem, florem habet albæ rosæ persimilem, in cuius foliis aliquæ veluti passionis Christi figuræ delineatæ conspiciuntur.]

I can't speak Latin but with the help of an online translator that couldn't either and Perseus* I would suggest this means:

Elegant it is to see when fruit-burdened, on account of their abundance [or wide extent of the plant?], the flowers have a great similarity to the white rose[?], and in its petals [foliis means leaf but that was what petals were called then] some perceive a comparison to the shapes of the passion of Christ traced out.

The first three quotes in English give a stepwise increase in sarcasm.

1613 S. PURCHAS Pilgrimage VIII. ii. 616 The flower of the Granadille they say..hath the marks of the Passion, Nailes, Pillar, Whippes, Thornes, Wounds.]

1633 T. JOHNSON Gerard's Herball (new ed.) App. 1591 Maracoc or Passion-floure. The Spanish Friers for some imaginarie resemblances..first called it Flos Passionis.

1689 N. TATE tr. A. Cowley 3rd Pt. Wks. IV. 92 Flos Passionia christi. The Passion-Flower, or Virginian Climber. The first of these Names was glven it by the Jesuites, who pretend to find in it all the Instruments of our Lord's Passion; not so easily discern'd by men of Senses not so fine as they.

"The lobed leaves and tendrils of the plant were also said to represent the hands and scourges of Jesus's torturers."


Pat said...

Sorry to post again but I meant to write:

I find it comforting that the tradition of ridiculing the name is almost as old as the name itself.

ScreamingGreenConure said...

Good find, Pat.

Unknown said...

The red colored must be Passiflora vitifolia

Emily said...

Pat - I also find that comforting!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, made me laugh but 1 minor niggle though, Spike is there (School Hard being his first eppie) from season 2 til the end. ;-)

Yolanda from Bliss, Redeptionista

mr_subjunctive said...


Yeah, I hadn't really thought about it until you said that, but I've always been kind of put off by them too, possibly because of the Passion connection.

Or maybe not. They're awfully funny-looking. But that could be the reason.

Well, no worries about that here; most of them (all of them?) aren't hardy in Zone 5. WCW grew some in containers outside and then brought them in for the winter, but I'm not interested in doing that. We overwintered some in the greenhouse at work one year while I was there, and they grew into one another really badly; it was a struggle to get one out to show customers.

I'd also heard that they have a bad tendency toward spider mites if grown indoors, but we didn't have that problem in the greenhouse, and I'm not sure where I heard that so possibly it's not true.


Those quotes pretty much made my day. I, too, am comforted to know that I'm not the first one to point this out.

The husband said that the Jesuits did that sort of thing a lot; something about shamrock leaves representing the Trinity or whatever. I'm surprised the Jesuits had to resort to that kind of thing to be convincing, and more surprised that it ever worked.


P. coccinea is also red, though, and looks pretty similar. Maybe they're synonyms?


True, but he wasn't part of the Scoobies until he got chipped, in Season 4. And actually now that I think about it, he wasn't really being especially helpful in Season 4, so an argument could be made that he wasn't a Scooby until Season 5.

ScreamingGreenConure said...

You think plants have it bad...

Thomas said...

Also orchids named for the Virgin, and one called the Sacred Dove. Everywhere the missionaries looked in the (scary) new world they saw signs. I imagine it was reassuring, but personally, smacks to much of "the voices are telling me..."

I've (tried) growing several spp. indoors. The individual flowers are all pretty short lived, when you can get them to bloom. My personal faves are two grown for the foliage, P. coriacea and P. trifasciata, fairly easy and not bug prone. P. coriacea flower clusters are pendant and continue to add buds, and the leaves feel like those of rubber plant.

Meredith said...

Well, learn something new everyday. I did not realize the Passionflower got its name the way it did. Your reinterpretation is hilarious -- and vivid. ;)

Paul said...

My boyfriend LOVES this genus. We have an evergreen lutea that decided to put on fruit (2) this year. It's not supposed to, but it did. (BTW, they were boring fruits, no taste.).

We also have a red variety (though not the vitifolia type) that died very spontaneously this year after growing marvelously. I think it was a fusarium or verticillium; likely the former. Also have one like the purple one pictured, which is my favorite. It smells so pretty!

This flower is also a symbol employed by LGBTQ youth in East Asia (namely Korea and Japan).

Paul said...

Finally, the "passion" symbolism is entirely contrived and Old World. This plant has been in religious use by native Americans for centuries before christianity. Some varieties contain MAOIs that, when mixed with other certain plants, make for serious visionary experiences.

Lee said...

I think that purple flowered Passiflora is P. 'Amethyst'. I grow one on my south facing window, and they grow and bloom quite well in summers.

I agree with Prashanth on the red one. P. coccinea has unlobed leaf, while P. vitifolia has 3-lobed leaf.

CrazyGardenLady said...

This made me laugh out loud. On public transport. Half my train carriage is now eyeing me with suspicion and Thomas' first paragraph merely exacerbated the situation by causing me to vocalise my amusement far too loudly on the heels of the previous guffaw.

Thank you mr_subjunctive and thank you Thomas!

Lance said...

I've always liked the flower since it was odd. But not bought one since it was linked to the crucifixion (my own hangups of course) - I like that Paul said it predates that link in the new world so I may have to look that up.

Also I had no idea I was holy.

Pat said...

La Pasionaria, Spanish for "Passionflower", was a famous fighter on the anti-fascist side in the Spanish Civil War.árruri