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Ask Rufus: The Story of the Passion Flower or Maypop


The passion flower was probably given its name by Catholic missionaries in the New World during the 1500s. They found that this flower’s colors and structure reminded them of the Passion of Christ.

The passion flower was probably given its name by Catholic missionaries in the New World during the 1500s. They found that this flower’s colors and structure reminded them of the Passion of Christ. Photo by: Courtesy photo


Rufus Ward



Sometimes it is interesting how one thing leads to another. So it is with today's column on passion flowers, also known as maypops. I have often found these flowers blooming on the edge of fields and forest near the Tombigbee River. Two weeks ago I was at Episcopal Camp Bratton-Green north of Canton where I photographed wildflowers including passion flowers. Then last week while I was working on my story about David Crockett, I came across an interesting article on the passion flowers in an 1835 newspaper. 


The passion flower is not only a very beautiful native wildflower but has a most interesting history. The plant was long used by Native Americans both as a pain reliever or mild sedative. The leaves and roots were used to make a tea or were dried and smoked. The flower itself has a nutty flavor. 


However they should not be eaten or consumed unless under the supervision of a botanist or healthcare provider to properly identify the plant and its different elements, as there are several common side effects including upset stomach, nausea and mental confusion. A less common but much more serious side effect is cardiac arrhythmiac.  


I have also usually found passion flowers growing in areas attractive to poison oak and ivy.  


A quick google check revealed over 50 different herbal remedies made from passion flowers that are on the market. 


The name passion flower was probably given the plant by 16th Century Spanish Catholic missionaries in the New World. The colors and structures of the flower called to their minds the Passion of Christ and thus the flower's name. 


Last week I was looking for a story on David Crockett in some old newspapers. In an Aug. 19, 1835 United States Gazette from Philadelphia Pennsylvania, I found an interesting article on passion flowers that was being reprinted from the New Haven Herald. 


An excerpt: 


"The grain is God's bounty; but the flowers are his smiles." - Sir Isaac Newton 


The Passion Flour, - The following interpretation of this justly celebrated and much admired flower, - will not, I trust, be found uninteresting, especially, to the fair devotees of Flora. 


The leaves resemble the spear that pierced our savior's side; the tendrils, - the cords that bound his hands, or the whips that scourged him; the ten petals, - the apostles; Judas having betrayed, and Peter deserted; the pillars in the center, - the cross or tree; the stamina, - the hammer, the styles the nails; the inner circle around the central pillar, - the crown of thorns; the radiance, - the glory; the white in the flower - the emblem of puriety; and the blue, - the type of heaven. One species, the Passiflora alata even drops of blood are seen upon the cross or tre-. This flower continues three days open and then disappears, thus denoting the resurrection. 


That tradition, however, has nothing to do with the passion flower's common name of maypop. There is a simple reason for the alternate name. The passion flower will produce a oen-to-three-inch diameter green or greenish yellow berry that if stepped on will make a popping noise, thus the name maypop.  


If you will take the time to walk along local trails such as the River Walk or the hiking trails at MUW's Plymouth Bluff Center, the passion flower is just one of the many native wildflowers that may be seen and enjoyed, depending on the season.


Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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