The Joy of Growing Maypops

Introduce this hardier relative of tropical passionfruit to your property, and enjoy beautiful blooms and delicious fruit on a native plant.

| March/April 2019

When I was given the tiny, black seeds of a maypop a few years ago, I was warned: This plant will absolutely, without question, take over your garden. I heeded the warning to an extent, but I was sure I could manage my plants. After all, could this vine really be such a bully? And, in the ensuing years, has it actually taken over? Turns out, yes, it could; and, yes, it has. This fruit-bearing vine has colonized every square inch of my garden. Yet I’ve never once regretted growing the plant, and that’s for one very simple reason: Maypop vines produce the most beautiful flowers in the world.

Maypops are native to the temperate, southeastern United States, growing in the wild as far north as southern Illinois and Indiana, and as far west as Kansas and Oklahoma. Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Andrew Cannizzaro.

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) — also known as passionflower or passion vine — belongs to a mostly tropical botanical group called the Passifloraceae. The most famous member of this group is the tropical passionfruit (Passiflora edulis), an important commercial crop in many countries. Maypops, however, are native to the temperate, southeastern United States. You can find them growing in the wild as far north as southern Illinois and Indiana, and as far west as Kansas and Oklahoma. I wasn’t sure if the plant would survive at my home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but it’s thrived and proven its vigor in our climate. The perennial vine climbs via tendrils and can reach up to 20 feet in a single season, and its large, three-lobed leaves are ornamental and lush.

But there’s more. The flower bears an edible fruit that tastes quite similar to the tropical passionfruit, a flavor that’s both sweet and pleasantly tart. Wild types can vary in quality, but the fruit I’m growing happens to be excellent, without any off-putting sourness or funk. The largest individual fruit I’ve grown was the size of a tennis ball and weighed 2 1/2 ounces.

To have the ability to grow a tropical-tasting fruit on a gorgeous flowering vine in temperate Pennsylvania is almost too good to be true.

Flowering Passion

Calling it the most beautiful flower in the world will surely invite debate. But once you’ve seen it, you’re likely to agree. When I saw my first flower in bloom, I was forced to interrupt the conversation happening in my backyard. “My passionflower is blooming!” I shouted to my guests. I’ve been teased about this outburst for years.

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