Neotropical Passifloraceae

Teonildes Nunes

Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, Feira de Santana, Bahia, Brazil. 


Climbing herbs or lianas with axillary tendrils, shrubs or trees, rarely forked or with adhesive discs at apices of tendrils. Leaves simple or rarely compound, alternate, stipulate (rarely absent), petiole glandless or with glands (2-10); laminas unlobed or 2-3-5-9-lobed, edge entire or serrate, with or without glands, ocellus usually present. Inflorescence axillary, cymose, sessile or pedunculate, primary axis often a tendril, secondary axis often reduced; bracts linear, lanceolate or foliaceous, sometimes glandular; pedicels articulate. Flowers actinomorphic (rarely zygomorphic), hermaphrodite, functionally unisexual; perianth persistent, segments free or partially fused at base, usually with a cup-shaped to tubular hypanthium, red, pink, mauve; purple, blue, green or white (rarely yellow); sepals (3-)5(-6), petals equal to sepals, imbricate, rarely absent; corona with one to many series of filaments; stamens 4(-5), inserted on androgynophore; anthers dorsifixed; ovary (1-)3(-5)-carpellate, superior, unilocular, sessile or stipitate on elongate androgynophore; placentation parietal; ovules many; styles (1-)3(-5), free to partially fused at base; stigmas globose, capitate, papillate or divided. Fruit a berry or loculicidally 3-5-valved capsule. Seeds single to numerous, compressed, sub-globose, reticulate, foveolate, pitted or laterally grooved (3)6(11); endosperm copious; cotyledons foliaceous. Germination epigeal or hypogeal. Several species night flowering and pollinated by bats.

Notes on delimitation

Distribution in the Neotropics

  • Mainly in tropical and subtropical areas, particularly diverse in the New World tropics.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

  • Leaves alternate; simple or lobate (3-9-lobate).
  • 3 styles; 5-10 stamens; ovary tricarpellate, unilocular.

Key differences from similar families

  • Passifloraceae can't be confused with any other family of the Malpighiales because of the presence of the filamentous corona and the androgynophore, combined with the presence of tendrils and extrafloral nectaries. 
  • It is very close to the Turneraceae and Malesherbiaceae, but differs by the flowers possessing a corona, consisting of 1 or more rows of filaments, usually borne on a hypanthium; ovary usually on a short to long gynophore; often vines with tendrils, aril fleshy.
  • Differs from Cucurbitaceae by usually simple leaves, opposite to the tendril; stipules lacking, petioles always without glands. Inflorescences determinate, sometimes reduced to a single flower, axillary.

Number of genera

14 genera with 4 occuring in the Neotropics:

  • Ancistrotryrsus Harms (2 spp.).
  • Dilkea Mast. (6 spp.).
  • Mitostemma Mast. (3 spp.).
  • Passiflora L. (including Tetrastylis Barb. Rodr., c. 450 spp.).

Notable genera and distinguishing features

  • Mitostemma: Restricted to Brazil and Guiana. Scandents shrubs; flowers usually in short, terminal or axillary racemes; calyx much reduced; sepals 4; petals 4; corona in 3 series of filaments; stamens 8 or 10, inserted on the floor of the hypanthium near the base of the ovary, free, or united close to the base; gynophore erect; ovary 1-celled, with 4 parietal placentae; styles 4, distinct to the base; stigmas reniform-capitate; fruit ovoid.
  • Dilkea: Confined to the Amazon (Peru and Brazil). Woody vines or small trees, without tendrils, or rarely with a few poorly developed ones; flowers in axillary or terminal glomerules or short-spicate, rarely solitary, hermaphrodite, red or white; sepals 4-5; petals 4-5; corona with 2 series of filaments; stamens, hypogynous, free except at the very base; ovary subsessile or short-stipitate, with 4 parietal placentae; styles 4, united below the middle; stigmas reniform-capitate; fruit globose or ovoid.
  • Passiflora: Distributed throughout the tropics and subtropics, although the vast majority are endemic to the New World. Can be distinguished by the straight gynophore (rarely curved in P. mucronata and P. galbana); stamens that are free from their tips to the gynophore, and 3 styles; corona in various series; hypanthium well-developed; stigmas capitate; flowers mostly pentamerous.


  • All genera are Native of Neotropics.
  • Several species are cultivated throughout the Neotropics because of their edible fruits and the beauty of their flowers (P. caerulea, P. cincinnata, P. racemosa, P. amethystina, P. kermesina, P. quadrangularis, P. alata, P. maliformis, P. laurifolia, P. ligularis).

General notes

  • Some species have medicinal benefits and have been used in folk medicine (Passiflora incarnata) - in infusion of leaves to combat various diseases, P. edulis - diuretic and inflammations; P. incarnata - sedative; P. quadrangularis - analgesic).
  • Other species are known for their economic value such as fruit juice (P. edulis, P. alata, P. cincinnata, P. platyloba, P. maliformis, P. foetida, P. tarminiana, P. ligularis, P. quadrangularis), and ornamental because of the nature of the exotic nature of their flowers (P. racemosa, P. caerulea, P. quadrangularis, P. amethystina).
  • The bark of P. suberosa and P. holosericea are used as a vermifuge, the flower buds and flowers of P. alata are made into a tea-like drink and taken as a vermifuge or sedative.

Important literature

ANGIOSPERM PHYLOGENY GROUP [APG.] 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II.Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141: 399-436.

Brizicky, G.L., 1961. The genera of Turneraceae and Passifloraceae in the southeastern United States. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum, Cambridge, 42:204-218.

Escobar, L.K. 1988. Passifloraceae. Flora da Colômbia. Univ. Nac. de Colombia  10: 1-143. Falta da 71-143.

Feuillet, C. & MacDougal, J.M. 1997. New infrageneric names in Passiflora (Passifloraceae). Biollania, Edición Especial 6: 335-340.

Killip, E.P. 1938. The American species of Passifloraceae. Publ. Field Mus. Nat. Hist., Bot. Ser. 19(1-2):1-613.

Ulmer, T. & MacDougal, J.M. 2004. Passiflora: Passionflowers of the world. Timer Press, Portland.

How to cite

Nunes, T. (2009). Neotropical Passifloraceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.