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.
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.