Other Names: Ocoee, Purple Passionflower, Wild Passion Vine, Wild Apricot
Scientific Name: Passiflora incarnata
Maypops are one of the most cold hardy of all Passionfruit species. This herbaceous vine is vigorous, produces stunning flowers, and has a tropical tasting fruit… yet it can be grown throughout most of the U.S. The 2-3 inch (5-7.5 cm) fruit has a size and taste very similar to its close cousin, Passion Fruit.
A native to eastern North America and a food source for Native Americans as well as European settlers. Very little agricultural improvement has been conducted with this plant, and it is often found growing wild today.
- The Cherokee in Tennessee named it ocoee, and the Tennessee Ocoee River and Ocoee Valley are named after this flower.
- The Maypop is the State Wildflower of Tennessee.
- While this plant does have perfect flowers (contains both male and female parts), many of the flowers are functionally male – the female parts have atrophied or grow in a way that will never allow fertilization. This means that not all flowers will set fruit. The Maypop will change the number of female flowers it produces throughout the growing season based on the growing conditions.
- This plant has long been used as a symbol of Christianity and the Passion of Christ (hence the Family name):
– 10 petals (5 true petals and 5 petal-like sepals) represent the 10 apostles at the crucifixion
– The purple/pink corona represents the crown of thorns
– The 5 stamens represent the 5 wounds of Christ (wrists, feet, one in the side)
– The 3 styles represent the 3 nails used on Christ
– The tendrils represent the whips used to scourge Christ
– The three-lobed leaves also represent the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
- Each flower only lasts about one day
- The flowers have a lemony aroma
- The Maypop’s name has been reported to have two meanings: 1) it “pops” up in May rather quickly, 2) while it shoots up in May, the ripe fruit that drops can make a loud “popping” sound if you accidentally step on them.
USING THIS PLANT
- Fresh eating – contains a whole bunch of edible seeds surrounded by a gelatinous (and very flavorful) fruit. While you can eat the seeds (like pomegranate) many just spit them out
- Cooked fruit – great for making tropical flavored sauces
- Leaves – raw (addition to salads) or cooked (as a steamed veggie)
- Teas – leaves are used
- Fruit juice – alone/mixed with other juices; can flavor other foods (ice cream, fruit leather, etc.)
- Preserves, jams, jellies, etc.
- Flowers are said to be edible – cooked like a veggie, but I have never tried this
- General insect nectar plant, especially bees (i.e. attracts beneficial insects)
- Hummingbird and butterfly nectar plant
- Food source for wildlife in Summer and Autumn
- Beautiful flowers (pale pink to deep purple) in the Spring
- Medicinal – long history of Native Americans using the Maypop for insomnia, anxiety, and inflammation
Yield: I’ve seen reported 10-20 fruits per vine depending on vine size and age of the plant, but this seems to be reportings on wild plants
Harvesting: Late Summer – Autumn (September – November). Fruit ripens through the season, so plan to check the vine often. Many growers will just wait for the mature fruit to drop before harvesting.
Storage: Fresh fruit can store for a week or two at cool room temperature. Don’t let it dry out by placing it a dry environment.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-10
AHS Heat Zone: 12-4
Chill Requirement: Likely, but no reliable data can be found as to the specifics
Plant Type: Herbaceous Vine (above ground parts die back each winter)
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Vertical/Climbing Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are few named varieties, most named varieties that exist have been improved for their flowers and not their fruit; hence they may not be a good choice for the Permaculturist (one named variety is even sterile!). However, there are many unnamed varieties that grow great fruit.
Pollination: Needs Cross-Pollination to produce fruit – needs another variety/cultivar nearby, and both will set fruit. Pollinated largely by Carpenter Bees. If none are present, and since there are not a lot of flowers, some growers will hand-pollinate using pollen from a flower that has been open for 12 hours.
Flowering: Summer (July – September)
Years to Begin Bearing: 1-2 years
Years to Maximum Bearing: 2-4 years
Years of Useful Life: Indefinite as “new” shoots form every year
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 10-30 feet (3-9 meters) tall (but about 15-20 feet is typical) and as wide as you will let it grow (but single vines are about 1 foot (30 cm) wide)
Roots: Initially a tap root and over time a deep network of roots both Suckering (shoots can pop up quite a distance from the “mother” plant) and Stoloniferous (will root from creeping stems above ground)
Growth Rate: Fast
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Medium, but can tolerate drought once established
pH: most species prefer fairly neutral soil (5.5 – 7.5)
Special Considerations for Growing:
- The fruit needs a long and warm summer to ripen, so consider planting in your sunnier spots.
- This plant starts late in the Spring (remember the name?), so it can be planted in a place that late summer shade will not interfere with other plants growth.
- Maypop grows rapidly and grows best when it can climb on a trellis, a fence, an arbor, or even other shrubs.
Propagation: Layering – Take advantage of its stoloniferous nature and layer this plant in Spring and Summer… the stems root easily. Cuttings. Seed – should be soaked for 12 hrs in warm water before sown; may take a full 12 months to germinate.
- Minimal. Almost no pests.
- Keep the vine in check by hand picking suckers or mowing around the plant where you don’t want it to spread.
- The browned vines can be trimmed back at the end of each season.
- Many in the northern zones will mulch the roots for added frost protection
Concerns: Spreads wide and fast if allowed