Grow it yourself: Passion Fruit

Grow it yourself: Passion Fruit

The ‘passion’ in passion fruit actually refers to suffering – as in ‘the passion of Christ’. But we would only suffer if we couldn’t get hold of one – delicious eaten fresh with a spoon on a hot summer’s day, or added to a zingy caipirinha instead of lime. Give us a passion fruit at any moment. We multi like!

Marco Barneveld, www.braindrain.nu

Grow it yourself: Passion Fruit

When I was a boy, around that age that girls suddenly started to be interesting, there was this urban legend going around that if you fed a girl with passion fruit she would become overwhelmed with desire and start doing things with you that good girls normally don’t do. We all believed it. Why else would it be called passion fruit? Well, I tried it and it didn’t work. Later on in life I figured out that the best form of seduction is genuine attention. But that, of course, is a completely different story.

Later still, I discovered that the passion in passion fruit actually stands for the passion of Christ - where ‘passion’ means suffering rather than pleasure. But you don’t need to worry about suffering when you eat them. Stop taking things so literally. You see, the passion fruit originates from South America and when the Spanish missionaries first saw them, they thought their flowers portrayed ‘Christ’s passion on the cross’ because the flowers have ‘Three Nails, Five Wounds, a Crown of Thorns and the Apostles’. Well, in the eyes of a devout Christian missionary they might. The flowers are certainly very unusual. Anyway, the name stuck.

Calming passiflora

Passion fruit comes from a large family that includes several hundred species. Most of them are native to the tropics of South and Central America, Brazil, Mexico, and the West Indies, but there are also species that are native to Australia. The Spanish explorers loved the fruits that these vines produced, so they took them back to Europe and from there they spread around the world.

And while some things that taste good are pretty bad for you, like marshmallows or triple shots of vodka mixed with Coca Cola, these little babies are excellent for your health as well. Why? Well, passion fruit is high in vitamins A and C, as well as being rich in potassium, calcium, iron and other nutrients. But the plant is also popular for its medicinal value. The leaves of many species of passiflora, the plant that bears the passion fruit, have been used for centuries by the indigenous tribes of Latin America as a sedative or calming tonic. Brazilian tribes used the fruit as a heart tonic and medicine, and in a favourite drink called maracuja grande that is frequently used to treat asthma, whooping cough, bronchitis and other stubborn coughs.

Grow it yourself: Passion Fruit

Passion fruit still has an important place in South American traditional medicine. In Peruvian traditional medicine, the juice is used for urinary infections and as a mild diuretic. In Madeira, passion fruit juice is given as a digestive stimulant and to treat gastric cancer. And where we come from, you can by a tincture of passiflora which you use to keep calm before exams. Drinking the whole bottle would make you pretty groggy though. I tried this, of course, just to prove the medicinal benefits.

Grow it yourself

But since you are reading this, your green fingers might well be eager to try growing these for yourself. Well, why don’t you give it a go? Passion fruit vines are evergreen climbers that love to ramble over fences, sheds and outhouses, or up a veranda, pergola or screen.

They are self-clinging, due to their spidery tendrils. They prefer a north-facing position, and though they will grow in westerly or easterly position you may find them sneaking around to the north to find more sun.

They can grow 5 to 7 metres per year, once established, and they will need strong support. A plant will live five to seven years, and although they grow best in tropical climes, they will survive temperatures low as -6 degrees. They will also do well indoors, for all you indoor urban farmers out there.

Decent growth, plenty of fruit

To get decent growth and plenty of fruit, plant the vines in a sunny, frost-free spot and lavish them with TLC. Passion fruit vines develop extensive root systems to fuel all that growth and fruit production, so allow plenty of room for the roots to grow. Also, keep the surrounding area free of weeds and competing plants, including grass.

Grow it yourself: Passion Fruit

How to grow passion fruit

  • Plenty of room
  • Keep free of weeds and competing plants
  • Space to climb
  • Sunny and frost-free spot
  • Keep well drained
  • Prune back early spring
  • In spring and summer water once a week

Give the vine space to climb too. An ideal spot to grow a vine is along a wire fence, across a balcony, or over a pergola where they will provide year-round shade. If you want to grow a vine along a sunny wall or fence, install some wire, trellis or mesh for the tendrils to wind themselves around.

Passion fruit dislike having ‘wet feet’ and are prone to root rot in wet soils, so select a well-drained garden bed or slope. Add organic matter, such as composted manures to the soil before planting, as well as a little lime.

Fruit is produced from the current season's growth so it is important to prune back after the last frost or in early spring. We advise pruning back by about a third. Remove weak growth and dieback. Thin out the vine every few years to increase ventilation. It's easy to see why passion fruit are so hungry – they produce so many flowers and fruit!

Flowering and fruiting passion fruit

Feed the vines with a fruit tree fertiliser and a little extra potash. Side dressings are also beneficial. When choosing your fertiliser, keep in mind that fertiliser high in nitrogen will produce leaves at the expense of flowers and fruit. Water deeply once a week in the spring and summer and spread the fertiliser and mulch over the entire root system, not just around the base of the stem. Passion fruit thrive on any fertiliser designed to encourage flowering and fruiting. Apply fertiliser in spring and then every four weeks during the summer months. Always water well when applying fertiliser. It can take 12–18 months for a newly planted vine to reach fruiting size. We usually get one large crop during summer and autumn; gardeners in more tropical areas will get continual cropping. The fruits are ripe when the skin is wrinkled: pick the fruit before it drops.

Possible problems

Passion fruit are susceptible to root rot (Phytothera). The sign that this is occurring are large patches of straw-coloured foliage that look almost like they have been burned. Subsequently the whole vine will collapse. You can prevent this by planting on a well-drained site and watering monthly with Anti-rot phosacid. Sometimes aphids can spread a virus which causes mottled leaves. This is incurable so if it occurs, pull the vine out and start again.

Tips & Tricks:

  • If it rains during the flowering period, you might consider pollinating the flowers by hand to boost the yield of fruit.
  • Passion fruit vines live up to seven years, after which time they will need to be replaced.
  • Grow passion fruit on a trellis, fence or support that faces west or northwest for the best growth and productivity.
  • Suckering is common with black passion fruit. Be on the look-out for different shaped leaves which are a sign of suckers from the non-fruiting rootstock. Pull the suckers off as soon as you notice them.

Recipe for passion fruit cocktail

Grow it yourself: Passion Fruit

Passion fruit is easy to eat. Just cut them in half, scoop out the flesh with a spoon and enjoy. Or try this one out on one of those wonderful summer nights when the sweet smell of hay hangs in the air and you’re sitting outside on your porch with some friends.

Passion fruit caipirinha

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium passion fruit
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Crushed ice
  • 2 shots of cachaca
  • Sugar, for garnish

Directions:

Scoop out the flesh and seeds of the passion fruit and transfer these to a mixing glass or cocktail shaker along with sugar, and cachaca. Shake this with the ice and pour into a tumbler. Garnish the edges of the glass with sugar before you pour the drink into the glass. Enjoy with passion.

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