by Mike Malloy
Passion vines are some of the most beautiful plants you can have in your garden, not only for yourself, but for three of Florida’s most abundant butterflies. The Zebra, Gulf Fritillary and Julia, which use Passion vines as their host plant (plants that female butterflies seek out to deposit their eggs on). The females of these species can detect their host plants from quite a distance and will seek them out wherever they are growing. There are four to five hundred different species of passion vines, so there are plenty to choose from.
The flower comes in many different colors and shapes, ranging in size from one-half inch to six inches across – one flower more beautiful than the next. Some are very fragrant like the incense variety which is one of my favorites. The origin of most passion vines is tropical regions such as South America, Central America and Mexico.
Passion vines are great climbing plants because their tendrils wrap and hold onto anything they come into contact with. I have had them sitting on the back seat of my car on a two hour ride home from plant picking on the east coast and they will attach themselves to my seat belts (not kidding). A tree, an arbor or a trellis is a perfect support for these beautiful vines. Flowers appear on and off all year long here in Southwest Florida but are most abundant in the spring and summer. When first spotted in the garden they always bring up the question, “what is that??” Depending on which variety you choose the flower can be a real show stopper in your garden. Passion vines grow in sun or partial shade and require very little care once established.
Don’t worry about the caterpillars eating your Passion vines; it is actually the best pruning they can get. The caterpillars do not eat that much anyway, we all have to eat. Whether you know it or not that’s what butterfly gardening is all about, raising the caterpillars on the host plants until they pupate and develop into butterflies. Your plants will quickly recover and flush back out better than ever. In some cases, when you’re very successful in butterfly gardening, you may need to plant additional passion vines to accommodate the number of caterpillars you have. Remember, the more caterpillars you have the more butterflies you will have. The passion vine is the life line for Florida’s three heliconian butterflies. So remember to always have enough for your caterpillars to eat.
In addition to growing your Passion vine on a fence, trellis, arbor, or up a tree, if you have enough room they can simply be grown on the ground as a ground cover. To help your vines to get started when using a support, make sure you allow them to wrap themselves counter clockwise because when trying to get the growing in a clockwise direction they will unwrap with the earth’s rotation.
Here is some information on some of my favorite Passion vines:
Lady Margaret is one of the most beautiful. It’s crimson in color with blue fiber optics in the center. Flowers are about two-and-a-half to three inches in size. This one, in my opinion and experience, is the most prolific bloomer of all.
Corky-stem or Suberosa is native to Florida but this one can be very invasive, with the help of Mother Nature and birds it will be popping up everywhere. The flowers are white and insignificant. It is however one of the favorites of the Zebra long wing.
Citrina is very showy even though the flowers are only one inch. They are bright yellow, shaped like a star and can bloom all year. This vine I have found as a slow and compact grower. Great for small areas. Sometimes this one is hard to find. Let me know.
Alata (ruby glow) has a very large flower with maroon outer leaves and a dark blue inside. This is one of the largest passion vine flowers and it is very fragrant.
Some Passion vines produce edible fruit and others do not. The Edulis variety is one of the best for fruit, also ruby glow and maypop. There are many different varieties you can grow to produce your own tropical concoction.
Consider planting some passion vines for their fruit or just to help out our butterfly populations by replacing what has been removed through urban sprawl. In addition, plant some butterfly nectar plants and create your own backyard wildlife habitat.
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991, moving from the New York, New Jersey area. At that time he started a landscaping and lawn service business and after almost forty years totally in that line of work, he decided to sell his business and concentrate on his passion: “bringing butterflies back to Naples.” He has since written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted, designed and maintained numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many Collier County schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress National Preserve and is a familiar face at the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings and on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic. Mike also does butterfly art and has a website, naplesbutterfly.com