Did you know that there are literally hundreds of stunning, exotic-looking passion flower varieties, but only a handful that will that actually produce edible fruit? Yep – that’s right! The two most common fruiting passion flower are Passiflora edulis (which has both a purple and yellow species, along with hybrids) and Passiflora incarnata – also known as “Maypops”.
Read along to learn how to grow edible passion fruit vines – including their preferred climate and conditions, starting with seeds versus seedlings, pollination, pests, and tips for ongoing care. We’ll also discuss the key differences between Passiflora edulis and Passiflora incarnata, so you can decide which will best suit your garden. And we won’t forget the best part – how to harvest and eat passionfruit!
Passion fruit is sweet, tart, tangy, and downright delicious. It is nature’s sour candy! For us, growing passionfruit is also dual purpose. We adore the antioxidant-rich, low-glycemic index fruit – but also enjoy the vigorous, lush climbing vines. They are evergreen in our climate, and make for excellent privacy screens. We have 9 passion fruit vines covering arches and trellises that serve as “green walls” all over our property! Yet they do require maintenance, and have the tendency to be invasive. We’ll talk about pruning too.
What is the difference between Passiflora edulis and Passiflora incarnata?
Before we go much further, let’s simplify things. From here on out, I will refer to Passiflora edulis as “passion fruit”, and call Passiflora incarnata by its common name – “maypops”. Sound good? Okay. Think of passion fruit and maypops like cousins. They’re related, but have some notable differences
Maypops are native to North America, whereas passion fruit is native to South America. Thus, maypops are more cold-tolerant than their sub-tropical passion fruit cousins. Maypops are generally hardy down to USDA zone 6. I have heard rumors of them growing in zone 5 as well, if they’re planted in a sheltered, south-facing location. The vines will die back after the first hard frost, but bounce back with a vengeance the following spring – especially if they’re well established and protected with extra mulch. Despite their US-native status, maypops are considered invasive by some due to their zealous growing habits.
Passion fruit are more tender, and thrive in frost-free climates. USDA hardiness zones 9-11 are ideal for passion fruit, though some hybrid varieties are more cold-tolerant and will survive an occasional dip below 30 degrees. “Frederick” purple passion fruit is one such variety, and is advertised as being hardy down to zone 8b. Where winters are mild, passion fruit will remain an evergreen vine. In places with a bit of frost, it will likely lose some of its leaves over winter.
On the other hand, the less common yellow passion fruit (Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa) are significantly more tropical and do not tolerate freezing at all. These are the types of passion fruit commonly found in Hawaii – also called Lilikoi on the islands. Surprisingly, despite their more tropical tendencies, it is said that yellow passion fruit is slightly more bitter and acidic than the purple variety.
Aren’t sure of your hardiness zone? Use this easy look-up tool.
Both passion fruit and maypop flowers are out-of-this-world gorgeous. Really, they look like alien flowers! You can tell the difference between the two by the significantly more lavender hue on the maypops, including their frilly bits, whereas passionfruit has white frills and petals with a purple center. The yellow variation of passion fruit look like the purple, mostly white flowers as well.
Aside from being native, another huge one-up the maypop has over passion fruit is that their flowers are medicinally beneficial! Soothing Passiflora incarnata is used by herbalists to reduce anxiety, pain, insomnia, ADHD, and inflammation. Both the maypop flowers and fresh leaves can be dried and used to make calming teas, tinctures, and infusions. They can also be used topically as poultices to heal cuts and bruises.
I will state for the record that I am not a trained herbalist. However, I have poured over many resources, and cannot find anything that suggests that purple passion fruit (P. edulis) flowers should be used for medicinal purposes. On the contrary, I found that they could potentially be slightly toxic if ingested. If you know otherwise, please correct me if I am wrong here! But that is the conclusion I have come to.
While the maypop has the passion fruit beat with its flower power, the opposite is true when it comes to fruit. Truth be told, I have never tasted a maypop since they are not common here. But from what I have read and heard, passion fruit is significantly more sweet and tropical in flavor than the maypop. Furthermore, passion fruit can grow larger in size and are often more juicy inside. Especially the Frederick variety, which can get huge. That isn’t to say that maypops aren’t still awesome though! It is just a known difference.
Both passion fruit and maypops are egg-shaped, and filled with seedy pulp that is both sweet and sour in flavor. Underripe maypops can be particularly sour. The aroma of a ripe purple passion fruit smells like you died and went to tropical heaven! Due to the large black edible seeds, the texture is crunchy – though some folks choose to spit out the seeds. The pulp can also be juiced to separate out the seeds.
Lifespan & Fruiting Time
Unfortunately, your fruiting passion plants will not live forever! The passion flower vines that do not produce fruit can live for a decade or longer, while fruiting varieties have a shorter life span. Both passion fruit and maypops can take a year or two of growth before they begin to bear fruit, and will begin to produce fewer fruit as they age past their prime. In commercial settings, farmers replace vines every 3 to 5 years.
Purple passion fruit vines have a reported lifespan of about 5 to 7 years. Yet our oldest vine is about four years old now and isn’t slowing down on fruit yet! It is developing more and more woody undergrowth however, which is a sign of aging – as it will not sprout new growth from those areas. Maypops are also described as a “short-lived perennial” that live for several years and then slow or die.
Now that you have a better understanding of which type of Passiflora you are interested and able to grow, let’s dig into the details.
HOW TO GROW PASSION FRUIT
When it comes to starting your passion fruit (or maypop) plant, you have a few different options.
Growing Passion fruit from seed
One way to grow passion fruit is to start the plant from seed. To do so, it is best to use fresh seed – right from a ripe fruit! You can even use seeds from store-bought fruit* (see note below). For passion fruit, simply collect a handful of seeds from inside the fruit, rinse and wipe them down well to remove the pulpy coating, and plant them. In contrast, fresh maypop seeds must be refrigerated for 12 weeks (or kept outside in freezing weather) to induce germination – called cold stratification. Store stratifying seeds in damp sand to prevent them from drying out.
Passion fruit seeds should be planted 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in seedling start mix or loose, fluffy potting soil, and then kept damp and warm until they sprout – which is how most seeds are started. A seedling heat mat may come in handy. Patience is key here, because even the freshest seeds can take 10 to 20 days to germinate. Older dry seeds can take months! Soaking dry seeds for a day or two before planting can help promote sprouting. The same applies for maypops.
*Note: The one caveat here is that seeds you collect must come variety of passion fruit that is not a hybrid. Hybrid seeds will not breed true – meaning they probably won’t “grow up” to be like their parent plant. Though they all weren’t perfectly marked, I believe most of our passion fruit vines are a Frederick hybrid, thus we can’t seed-save from them.
If you are unsure of the exact variety, it may be more worthwhile to either buy seed from a reputable source, or seek out a started plant.
Passion fruit cuttings or seedlings
If you know someone who has a passion fruit vine, see if you can snag a cutting from them! The tips of new vine growth will be most vigorous and easy to propagate. Obtain a cutting that has at least several leaves and tendrils above a node, around 6 to 8 inches long. Then, dip the cut end of the vine in rooting hormone or fresh aloe vera gel, and plant it in a container of well-draining but consistently damp potting soil. Hopefully, roots will take form and the cutting will flourish.
A similar, even easier option is to buy a started seedling or young plant. That is – it’s easier if you can find them! We’ve had great luck; our local nurseries almost always carry them. A few times they have been out of stock, but happily put in a special order for us. Feel free to ask your local nursery or garden center to do the same! And by “local nursery”, I mean the smaller operations. You’ll probably have better luck there than at big box stores. Alternatively, you could try to order a started passion fruit vine online.
How many vines do I need? About passion fruit pollination
Good news! Both purple passion fruit and maypops are self-fertile. This means they do not need a partner plant to get pollinated and bear fruit. Since passion fruit vines can become so monstrous in size, this will come as welcome news for folks gardening in small spaces. In contrast, the yellow passion fruit variety is self-sterile and requires cross-pollination from another cultivar of passion fruit planted nearby.
While the blooms can be pollinated by themselves, the pollen is still required to be moved around the flower – transferred from the anther to the stigma. Because passion fruit pollen is rather thick and sticky, wind doesn’t always do the trick. Instead, carpenter bees and honey bees are the primary pollinators for passion fruit. This means you need bees in your yard! For ideas on how to attract more bees to your garden, see this article: “Top 23 Plants for Pollinators: Attract Bees, Butterflies, and Hummingbirds”.
Without bees, you may have to hand-pollinate your passion fruit – which is an easy but somewhat tedious task! Years ago, I hand-pollinated some of our passion flowers for fun, but have not found it necessary. We get gobs of fruit! Yet if your plants need a little help, check out this tutorial to learn how to hand-pollinate passion fruit flowers.
So you have your baby vine, one way or another… Ready to plant?
PLANTING LOCATION & CONDITIONS
As you prepare to plant your passion fruit vine, keep these things in mind in regards to choosing a location:
Passion fruit and maypops need something to climb. Plan to provide support in the form of a trellis, arch, arbor, or other sturdy structure. Personally, we avoid growing them on the property perimeter fences – as we worry about the weight, and access or maintenance from the other side. Instead, we prefer to give them their own dedicated structure to take over. See how we make two different types of sturdy, inexpensive trellises in this step-by-step tutorial!
They are vigorous growers. I can’t stress this enough. Passion fruit and maypops can grow up to 20 feet per year under ideal growing conditions! If allowed, they will wrap up and smother other plants and even trees. Plan a location with ample space, and easy access for pruning as needed.
Sun & Shelter
Despite their differences in cold hardiness, both passion fruit and maypop have similar preferences when it comes to sun and shelter. They will grow in locations that receive full sun to partial shade. The vines will flower the most when provided adequate sun – at least 6 hours. However, they are both sensitive to wind, and are prone to sunburning in the hot afternoon sun.
Therefore, I suggest to plant your vines in a semi-sheltered location – especially if you’re pushing the limits with your growing zone! Our most lush, large, productive vine is tucked away on our side yard between a fence and the house, and receives morning to midday sun and afternoon shade. On the other hand, we have some vines that get full sun all day, and they’re doing just fine. They do turn a bit yellow on top in the summer to fall.
Passion fruit prefer soil that is moderately rich and well-draining. Clay soils, containers with inadequate drainage, or standing water can lead to rot, disease, and death. Your best best is to amend the planting area with some fluffy potting soil and plenty of well-aged compost, mixed in with some of your native soil. If they aren’t there already naturally, consider adding some worms to the area as well! They’ll help continue to enrich and aerate the soil for you.
Aside from compost, don’t worry too much about fertilizer at the time of planting. We don’t want to shock the young freshly transplanted vines! We’ll do more amending later. Instead, you could water the new vines with a dilute seaweed extract, mild compost tea, or aloe vera soil drench for a nice and gentle jump start. These plants are both fairly shallow-rooted, so mulch them well to prevent the top few inches of soil from becoming overly dry.
In a mild frost-free climate, there is really no “bad time” to plant a passion fruit vine. We’ve planted ours in various times of year and never had any issues. However, keep in mind that vines planted towards the end of fall or during winter will grow a little slower at first than those planted in the spring. I would avoid planting out a tender young vine in the middle of your hottest months, especially if it is in a location with full sun.
Plant young maypops in the spring, after the last risk of frost has passed. This will provide them as much time possible to get established before frost comes the following fall or winter. The same applies for those growing passion fruit in zones 8 or 9.
Growing Passion Fruit in a Container
Passion fruit and maypops alike “can” be grown in containers. I put “can” in quotes because while they will survive, they won’t necessarily thrive. We have two passion fruit vines planted in the end of raised beds that are 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide. They look beautiful and lush, flower some, but produce less fruit than our other in-ground vines – and those are large “containers”!
Growing passion fruit in containers is possible, but will take a little more work. As with most plants, passion fruit are happiest in the ground where their roots can freely roam. Therefore, if you do opt to grow a passion fruit vine in a container, provide a large container with ample room. Container width is important, since they have shallow root systems and will appreciate room to grow outward.
The chosen container should have good drainage to prevent standing water and rotting roots. Use a light potting soil amended with compost. It is important to establish a consistent watering schedule, maintaining the soil moist but not soggy. Containerized plants generally require more frequent fertilizing than those in the ground, since they have a limited space and nutrient reserve to draw from. Therefore, I suggest to double the frequency of our fertilizing recommendations provided below.
Passion fruit and maypops will perform best with regular and moderate water, especially in the warm summer months or while actively growing fruit! Maintain the soil damp but not soggy. However, they are considered “fairly drought tolerant”. Meaning, they shouldn’t shrivel up and die if they’re pushed to the dry side on occasion. Since they’re somewhat prone to root rot and fungal disease, they’d prefer dry over drowning! Our passion fruit vines are on a drip system that gives them a little drink 3 times per week – in varying amounts depending on the season.
Fertilizing Passion Fruit
Passion fruit has a reputation for being a “heavy feeder”. We haven’t found that they need anything too crazy in terms of fertilizer though – especially if you start them out with good soil in their planting location! For our vines, we feed them a few cups of homemade compost tea about twice per year. See this article for a tutorial on how to make actively aerated compost tea.
Additionally, we top-dress the soil around the base of the vines with a mixture of slow-release fertilizers like kelp meal, alfalfa meal, and neem meal in the springtime, which gets watered in. Plus, the worms are down in there doing good work for us! In all, I suggest providing supplemental food in the form of a well-balanced, mild fertilizer at least once or twice per year. Maypops will benefit the most from spring feeding.
Pruning Passion Fruit
When people ask me how and when we prune our passion fruit vines, I usually respond with a laugh and a “Hack at them whenever I get a chance!” It is best to do your hardest passion fruit pruning after the bumper crop harvest. For us, that means in mid to late winter. However, we need to lightly cut back our vines several times a year to stop their rampant spread to unwanted areas. I avoid cutting too much right as the largest flush of flowers and fruit begin in late summer.
When the vines are still small you won’t have to do much pruning, though topping or pinching back a tall singular vine will encourage branching and bushiness. As they grow larger and attempt to extend past their designated structures, trim away new unwanted growth with pruning shears. You can also cut out older weak growth, but avoid cutting the main stem or trunk of the vine. Pruning actually encourages new growth, thicker stems, branching, and more future fruit, so don’t worry about “taking too much”!
For maypops, prune them in the early spring. Remove dead foliage and broken stems, but always keep at least one or two strong main vines growing from the base of the plant to regenerate.
Passion Fruit Pests & Disease
Have you heard the phrase “the difference between a weed and flower is a judgement”? Well, you may be faced with a similar judgement when it comes to pests and passion fruit vines. Passion fruit (and maypop) is the one and only host plant for a pretty little orange butterfly called the Gulf Fritillary.
Like milkweed to monarchs, the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars only feed on passion vines – though their adult butterflies do drink nectar from many types of flowers. These caterpillars can be seen as a pest as they munch down your precious passion fruit plant. From what I hear, they can do some significant damage too! But you know, it is the strangest thing… We see Gulf Fritillary butterflies in our yard quite often, but never notice caterpillar damage on our vines! Maybe the vines are so large and lush that we just can’t see it?
If you do notice damage to your vines, it is going to be a judgement call on how you want to proceed. If it is towards the end of the season and you’re growing maypops, I say leave them. They vines are going to die back soon anyways! If you do have the desire to remove them, you could either hand-pick the caterpillars off and dispose of them, or use an organic Bt-based spray. Bt stands for a bacteria called Bacillus Thuringiensis, and it only harms caterpillars. Take caution to avoid overspray, and use as directed!
Other Pests or Diseases
It is not uncommon to see ants on passion fruit vines. Ants feed on the nectaries – glands outside of the flower that produce nectar – and may also be helping with pollination! We have ants on our passion fruit vines and don’t intervene.
Other diseases that may affect passion fruit include fungal, Fusarium wilt, crown rot, scab, and other viral diseases. Overall, the are fairly hardy plants – and many of these issues can be prevented with good routine care like we’ve discussed today!
Harvesting Passion Fruit
Get ready for your maypops to ripen up in late summer to early fall! Passion fruit are often ripening around the same time, but timing can vary more in mild climates that lack freezing winters. For example, several of my San Diego friends informed me that their “bumper crop” is usually finishing up during August and September, while ours will occur from October to December a few hours north here on the Central Coast.
Both fruits take several months to mature, and start as small, green, egg-shaped fruit. With time, maypops turn yellowish in color near harvest. Purple passion fruit on the other hand turn sky blue! Just kidding. They turn purple.
One of my absolute favorite things to do in the garden is harvest passion fruit – because it is damn fun and EASY! See, passion fruit is self-harvesting. When they’re ripe, they simply fall off the vine naturally. Then we get to go around with a basket and collect them from the ground, like an easter egg hunt! Every day. For months. Large thick vines will benefit from an occasional shake of the trellis to dislodge any ripe fruit stuck in their masses.
Maypops will also drop from their vines when mature. Or, you can harvest them when they’ve become yellow, wrinkled, and easily pull off the vine. Wrinkling is a key indicator of ripeness for maypops, and they can be quite sour when they’re underripe. Passion fruit on the other hand doesn’t need to wrinkle, though it may. As long as it is a nice purple color and came off the vine, it is ready to enjoy!
Our favorite way to eat passion fruit is with spoon, straight from the shell – seeds and all! It is mouth-puckering but decadent. We also frequently scoop out the pulp to enjoy on top of granola with various nuts and seeds. Passion fruit is also excellent juiced, and added to kombucha. We’ve also added the juice to baked goods and homemade popsicles!
To juice passion fruit, we scoop the pulp into a fine mesh strainer perched over a bowl, and use a rubber spatula to repetitively stir and mash the pulp – pushing the juice down through the strainer into the bowl below. Some folks use the juice to make preserves such as jelly, syrup, or curd! The juice can also be frozen. I plan to play around with passion fruit in the kitchen more this winter, so stay tuned for new recipe ideas!
Now, excuse me while I go make breakfast.
I hope you found this article useful, interesting, and inspiring. What do you think? Are you going to plant some Passiflora this year? They’re absolutely worth the effort, as the fruit costs a small fortune in the stores! Please feel free to ask questions or leave feedback in the comments, and spread the love by sharing this article.