Vines scare me. Let’s face it: they are high-maintenance, hyperactive stranglers just waiting to invade your siding or your neighbor’s yard. But I love them just the same.
A few years ago, I was browsing at Bramble Wood Nursery, one of my favorite vendors at the State Farmer’s Market, and spotted passiflora incarnata “Incense.” It was not on my shopping list, and I had nowhere to put it. But the lone flower in bloom on that deceptively small plant was so striking that I gave in. For years I kept it confined to a pot, afraid of what might happen if I planted it in the ground. Now it’s free, and it’s making me nervous.
Passiflora incarnata, commonly known as passion flower vine or Maypop, is hard to resist. It looks like it should be a tropical, but it’s hardy from zones 6 - 9. Its huge, crazy flowers resemble a purple sea anemone and are a nice change of pace from clematis. It’s a host plant for the Gulf Fritillary, one of those pretty orange and black butterflies that aren’t Monarchs or Painted Ladies. Since it doesn’t really get going until August, it gives the garden some interest - and the bees and butterflies something to eat - after the big floral display of the summer. The shriveled flowers yield passion fruit. And it’s native.
Of course, being native doesn’t mean you can’t be a pain in the neck. On internet garden forums, people from Florida and Texas write that they rue the day they planted it, then issue dire warnings about what will happen to you if you make the same mistake. On the other hand, gardeners in North Carolina and more northern regions call it aggressive but not invasive. I’m inclined to agree, as each year I see one and only one growing wild in an open, uncultivated area in my neighborhood. Furthermore, it is not included on the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s list of invasive species, and responsible local nurseries such as Bramble Wood and Niche Gardens sell the plant with no warnings.
Still, I’m a worrier, which is why I grew mine in a pot for several years before finally letting it loose this spring. It was a bit slow getting started, and for a while I wondered if the three trellises I had lined up to support it had been overkill. On the contrary. By mid-August, it had entirely engulfed the trellises, draped itself over the dwarf crepe myrtles, latched onto the callicarpa, and was in the process of grabbing the winterberry holly before I put an end to its aspirations of world domination and cut it back a bit. Its exuberance is nerve-racking.
Do I regret my decision to set it free? Not yet. It looks far better than it did when its roots were jammed into a pot. But ask me again next year, when I’m on permanent sucker patrol. With passiflora incarnata, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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