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Passiflora racemosa (red passion flower)

The red passion flower is a beautiful evergreen climber with hanging clusters of showy red flowers.

Red passion flower flowers

Passiflora racemosa at Kew Gardens

Species information

Scientific name: 

Passiflora racemosa Brot.

Common name: 

red passion flower

Conservation status: 

Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Humid forest.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

Ingestion of certain species of the genus Passiflora may cause gastrointestinal upset.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Rosanae
Order: 
Malpighiales
Family: 
Passifloraceae
Genus: Passiflora

About this species

There are over 400 species of Passiflora, mostly from tropical and warm parts of America. Only three species, including the well-known Passiflora caerulea, are suitable for growing outside in Britain, and then only in mild areas. All other passion flowers require glasshouse protection in temperate countries but can of course be grown outside in subtropical and tropical areas.

Passiflora racemosa was named by the Portuguese botanist Félix da Silva Avellar Brotero (1744-1828). It is native to Brazil and has long been a favourite plant for growing in warm conservatories in temperate climates. The first part of volume 12 of the Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, in which the name Passiflora racemosa was first published, probably appeared in 1818.

Synonym: 

Passiflora princeps Lodd.

Genus: 
Passiflora

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Passiflora racemosa is native to the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Description

Overview: This vine has slender stems that climb to 10 m or more, but they only reach about 5 m when grown under glass.

Leaves: The evergreen leaves are ovate, glossy, with a wavy edge and measure about 9 cm long and wide.

Flowers: The bright red flowers appear throughout much of the summer and autumn (in cultivation) and are usually borne in pairs in pendulous clusters (racemes) that reach 30 cm or more in length at the end of leafless stems, except for small, brown heart-shaped bracts, which soon fall. Individual flowers have bright red sepals (about 4 cm long and 1 cm wide), and the petals are similar but smaller. The corona filaments are in three ranks, the outer one purple with white tips, the inner ones shorter and green.

Fruits: The green, narrowly ovoid fruits are about 7 cm long and 3 cm wide.

Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Illustration of Passiflora racemosa taken from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1818).

Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

The history behind the name

The common name, passion flower, refers to the supposed similarity between the strange shape of the flower and aspects of the crucifixion of Christ. A monastic scholar, Jacomo Bosio, having been told of the plant by Mexican monks, published an account of the passion flower, La Trionfante e Gloriosa Croce in Rome in 1610, and even today descendants of Spanish immigrants in Peru, Mexico and the Caribbean call it ‘Flower of the Five Wounds’. In Christian iconography, the following connections are made: the three bracts at the base of the flower represent the Trinity; the five sepals and five similar petals represent ten apostles, Peter and Judas being absent; the corona of narrow threads represents the crown of thorns; the five stamens represent the wounds; and the three styles represent the nails used in the crucifixion.

A rather stylised red passion flower is shown with a carnation in a 16th century painting of the Madonna and Child by Joos van Cleve, but the passion flower must have been added at a later date.

Uses

Passiflora racemosa is cultivated throughout the tropics as an ornamental. It is also grown under glass in temperate climates and outdoors occasionally on patios or against a sunny wall in sheltered gardens. It has received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. Many hybrids and cultivars have been produced.

Cultivation

Propagation of red passion flower is mainly by cuttings.

This species at Kew

Red passion flower is growing in the Princess of Wales Conservatory in the rainforest section.

Pressed and dried, and alcohol-preserved specimens of Passiflora racemosa are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these specimens, including an image, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

View details and image of specimen

References and credits

Brummitt, R. K. & Powell, C.E. (1996). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Dauncey, E. A. (2010). Poisonous Plants – A Guide for Parents & Childcare Providers. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Phillips, R. & Rix, M. (1997). Conservatory and Indoor Plants. Vol.1. Pan Books, London.

The Plant List (2010). Passiflora racemosa. Available online (accessed 8 August 2011).

Vanderplank, J. (1991). Passion Flowers and Passion Fruit. Cassell, London.

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Copyediting: Malin Rivers

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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