Passion Fruit

The 10 petals and stamens represented the 10 faithful apostles—excluding Peter because he denied knowing Christ during the Passion, and Judas because he betrayed the Christ into the hands of the Romans.

The lower five anthers of the passion flower symbolized the five wounds of Christ on the cross. Even today, Catholics of South and Central America call the passion flower the “flower of the five wounds.” Some associate the central corona with the halo around Christ’s head.

The three spreading styles or stigma symbolize the three nails on the Cross. The tendrils resemble the whips that the Roman soldiers used to scourge Christ, and the lobed leaves the soldiers’ hands clutching at Jesus. The dark spots under the leaves represent the 33 pieces of silver that the Romans paid Judas for betraying Christ.

When the passion flower has bloomed and spent its energy in a day (the time that Jesus suffered on the cross), the petals do not fall off but close around the ovary. To Catholics, this represents the hidden mysteries of the cross and the entombment of Christ after his crucifixion.

Extending the analogy even further, the passiflora’s round fruit symbolize the world that Christ came to save and its red stains the blood of Christ shed with the crucifixion.

The significance of the passiflora’s name has been felt throughout Europe since the 16th century. In Spain, the passion flower is known as Espina de Cristo (Christ’s Thorn). In Germany, the flower was once known as Muttergottes-Schuzchen (Mother of God’s Star).

In Japan, the passiflora is not associated with Christian symbology, but is known as the “clock plant” because of its unique shape. It has come to be associated with homosexual youth.


Passion Flower – Name and Symbolism

The passion flower has historically been a powerful religious symbol. The name, “passion flower,” interestingly, does not derive its name from the word “passion,” meaning love, but from the Passion of Christ on the cross. The Passion in Christian tradition refers to the period of time between the Last Supper and Christ's death.

When Christian missionaries first landed in Spain in the 16th century, they discovered the flower and found it to be a good omen. The flower’s unique structure lent itself to abundant religious interpretation. The 72 radial filaments or corona in the center came to symbolize the Crown of Thorns.

White Passion Flower

In North America, the passion plant is also called maypop (because the fruit are hollow and pop open when squeezed), water lemon (because of the lemon-shaped fruit), apricot vine, and passion vine.

Native Americans called the passion flower the Ocoee, which is how the Ocoee river and valley in Tennessee got their name. The Indians prized the Ocoee as the most abundant and beautiful of all their flowers.

The passion plant may also have been grown in the gardens of the ancient Incas and Aztecs. A sun-god myth of the Aztecs refers to the Snake Vine (a vine guarded by a serpent. This may have been the passiflora.

Inca mythology includes the Vine of Souls, which housed ancestral spirits. This may sometimes have alluded to the passiflora with its large, hollow fruit making perfect houses for spirits. The radiating circle of the passion flower’s corona invoked sun worship in Inca, Aztec, and Mayan cultures.