Plant of the Week: Purple Passionflower
The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees — each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.
This week we share with you one of our gardeners’ current favorites.
Every day new visitors come to the High Line to experience the wonder of the park, and we welcome our latest first-timer—Purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata—with open arms. This beautiful vine, native to various parts of the United States, blooms for its first season on the High Line this summer. The plant can grow to be 25 feet long, sprouting unique fringe-like lavender flowers with prominent yellow pistils and stamens, which eventually give way to an orange-yellow berry.
While one may think the flower’s lovely shape gives it the name “passion,” the moniker actually refers to the Christian crucifixion story, or Passion. The various parts of the flower are said to represent various characters in the story—the ten pale petals as Jesus’s disciples (not including Peter and Judas), the five stamens as Jesus’ five wounds, the stigmas as the nails that hung Jesus to the crucifix, and the purple fringe as the crown of thorns.
The plant, particularly common in the South, is also known by the name “maypop” after the sound that the hollow fruits make when crushed. These edible, juicy fruits—a source of food for many butterfly species—were also popular among colonial settlers and Native Americans, as originally reported by Captain John Smith in 1612. In addition, the shoots and greens of the vine were eaten, while natives used the roots in infusions to treat inflammation, boils, and liver problems and as ear drops to treat infections. Although the High Line’s vines are purely for visual enjoyment, the history behind this delightful vine makes it all the more interesting.
WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
Purple passionflower can be found on the High Line on the vegetal screen at 18th Street.