I had just been introduced to bird-watching. The new-found hobby took me on forays into the scarce wilderness at Bangalore’s outskirts. On one such outing, the morning had progressed and the bird activity had substantially reduced. As I was walking through the thorny shrubbery, I espied a white flower at a distance: it seemed to belong to a creeper that had worked its way through a lantana bush using its tendrils. Something about the flower drew me to it. I got close to the lantana bush, only to be, at first instance, smitten by the beauty of the flower. The flower was not just white as it appeared from a distance – it had some pink, green and yellow too!
I had seen colourful flowers earlier. Why did this one look so special and captivating? As I kept staring at the flower, I noticed that it had petals, beautiful tentacle-like structures, and an interesting arrangement of anthers and stigmas (reproductive organs) – all at different levels. It had a very different appearance and a tiered one at that. I revelled in the moment and forgot all about the flower until much later.
A couple of years elapsed and I got interested in butterflies. I was once watching the larvae of a butterfly feed on the leaves of a creeper, when my eyes fell on the exquisite flower yet again. This creeper was the food plant of the Tawny Coster butterfly!
All this was almost three decades ago.
In more recent times, my mother was given a sapling of passion fruit. She happily planted it in our garden. Since it had the space and resources, it spread rapidly all over; it didn’t spare our huge jamun tree either. We enjoy the creeper dangling down and almost forming a leafy curtain in front of our door. It bears lovely flowers that eventually turn into sour fruits, the pulp of which is best consumed as a juice with a lot of sugar, the insipid, edible, crunchy seeds keeping your teeth busy.
I have also come across other beautiful Passifloras – while some have a heady odour, others grab your attention in a garden full of flowers. Many of them can be grown on a trellis, forming a nice shade or even a live curtain. Depending on the species you plant, you get treated to some lovely blossoms and /or some edible fruits.
In this article, I have presented just a few species that I have come across, both in the city and in the wild. However, the family Passifloraceae consists of about 750 species and at least 500 of them belonging to the genus Passiflora. Most Passifloras are vines while some grow into trees too. Members of the genus Passiflora are distributed across South America, southern Asia and as far as Papua New Guinea.
And, like the Tawny Coster in India, several Heliconius sp. butterflies use Passifloras as their larval host plant; the plant has evolved some interesting strategies to prevent too many eggs from being laid on the plant. If you let curiosity get the better of you, and indulge in a little fact-finding, you are quite likely to be amazed.
Now out of nowhere, there is a Passiflora foetida growing in my garden! I wonder where it came from…Will the Tawny Coster follow? Only time will tell.