Passion Fruit

Sunday, October 27, 2013

 

BY NORIS LEDESMA

FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN

As published in the Miami Herald

 

Passion fruit, Passiflora edulis, is definitely a showstopper when it comes to tropical plants, and its aromatic fruit and beautiful flowers will ignite your horticultural passion. The passion fruit, unlike most tropical fruits, is not a tree but instead a climbing vine. This vine is multifunctional, providing fruit and habitat for some of South Florida’s most handsome butterflies, including the Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius.

 

There are several species of vines in the Passiflora genus that will attract butterflies, but P. edulis has the added benefit of bearing fruit. Within this species, there are two distinct varieties of fruit: the more-common purple and the rarer yellow. Both are native to South America, where the fruit is known by names including granadilla, parcha and maracuyá.

The purple variety originated in southern Brazil and is found across Paraguay and northern Argentina. Less is known about the yellow variety, but most believe it originated in the Amazon region of Brazil. Both varieties of passion fruit are almost perfectly round and filled with tiny edible seeds wrapped in a golden jelly-like flesh that is extremely juicy. The intensely tropical pulp is excellent in fruit desserts like sorbets, beverages and savory sauces. The purple passion fruit is preferred for eating fresh. The yellow passion fruit is best suited for juicing and making preserves. When ripe, the fruit starts to wrinkle on the outside.

 

In addition to bearing delicious fruit, the flowers of P. edulis are also handsome, sporting petals that range from lavender to white with a purple-pink center. The flowers must be hand-pollinated in order to get fruit, as the insects that typically perform this task do not live in South Florida. The best time to pollinate the blossoms is when they begin to exude a delicious lemon scent, as soon as they open in late morning.

Pollinate these flowers with a simple, small paintbrush, preferably using pollen from a neighboring passion fruit. Each flower only lasts for one day, opening in the morning and closing at sunset. Plants will produce flowers the second year after planting and are able to fruit from June to November with hand pollination.

 

Pollinating  the flowers

Find a site for your passion fruit in full or near-full sun and plant vines 10 to 15 feet apart. The vines will need support, so provide a trellis sturdy enough to support a large vine. If left unchecked, the vines are capable of climbing and possibly smothering nearby desirable trees and shrubs, so prune them regularly by removing less vigorous growth and occasionally pruning back vigorous growth to promote flowering.

 

Passion flower vines are easily propagated from seed; however, vegetative propagation from cuttings or grafting is the only way to insure the parent plant's characteristics will be preserved.

 

Brazilian Passion Fruit Pudding

 

Ingredients:

 

2/3 cup ripe passion fruit (approximately 8 fruit)

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 quart whole milk

1/3 cup sugar

Pour the cornstarch and 1 cup of milk into a bowl and stir to dissolve. Set aside.

 

In a saucepan, add sugar and remaining 3 cups milk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat. Whisk the cornstarch and milk mixture into the hot milk, then return to the heat and stir over medium-low heat, stirring constantly for 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

 

Cut 3 of the passion fruit in half, scoop out the seeds, and rub through a sieve over a bowl, discarding the seeds. Add to the mixture; stir until it reaches a pudding-like consistency.

Divide into individual cups. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until set. Cut the remaining 5 passion fruit in half, and spoon equal amounts of the fruit over the puddings. Serve chilled.

 Noris Ledesma is Curator of Tropical Fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.