The Portuguese word for passionfruit is 'Maracuja', and it belongs to the family called Passifloraceae. They are very easy to grow and very productive, particularly in central Portugal, often used as a terrace shade plant as a change from the frequently used grapevine.

With blooms both vibrant and complicated, they have a large crown of corona filaments reaching from the stamen that make identification easy.

They also include a whopping selection of more than 500 species separated into three main types: purple, yellow, and granadilla (red).

Origin of the name

Roman Catholic priests of the late 1500s found it growing in what is now Latin America and named it for the Passion (suffering and death) of Jesus Christ.

They believed that several parts of the plant, including the petals, rays, and sepals, symbolized features of the Passion. The flower's five petals and five petal-like sepals represented the 10 apostles who remained faithful to Jesus throughout the Passion. The circle of hairlike rays above the petals suggested the crown of thorns that Jesus wore on the day of His death.

To grow your own, plant in full sun to partial shade, in well-drained soil in a warm, sheltered spot. Cut back after flowering to keep plants neat and cut away damaged growth in spring. Most varieties need winter protection.

Flowers and fruit grow simultaneously, with blooms from spring through late autumn, and fruit produced from May through August in most regions.

The taste of the fruit explains its name very well, with the possum purple being the most popular for their juicy and sweet fruits. Although maracuja will grow outside, it could benefit a lot from being in the greenhouse in cooler regions.

Most varieties of the vines produce fruit, but not all types are edible, so consider this when choosing a species or cultivar to suit your needs.

Most passion flowers have blossoms that produce an intoxicating, heady fragrance, such as the gardenia-like scent of the P. mooreana species.

Vines can reach up to 30 feet in length without pruning to produce both flowers and fruit, but they can quickly become overgrown in the garden if the growing conditions are ideal.

Native tribes in North and South America foraged and cultivated the plants for a multitude of uses. Throughout many cultures, the blossoms, foliage, roots, and fruit are used in herbal medicine, and modern day uses also include flavouring food items and adding fragrance to perfume and soaps.

Develop a passion for the taste

And the passion fruit itself is good for you! It’s low in fat and is an outstanding source of dietary fibre.

It is also a good source of iron, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins - and is known for its laxative effect to keep the digestive tract in good shape and is helpful in preventing colon cancer.

It can relieve constipation and flushes out excess cholesterol from the blood vessels to help prevent a large number of gastrointestinal conditions.

This delicious and healthy snack is particularly full of iron, which assists your body to absorb its plentiful vitamin C and is a great treat for all those mums-to-be out there as they help protect both mum and their little bump from infection.

To eat this tropical fruit, you need to slice or rip open the rind to expose the colourful, juicy flesh and seeds. The seeds are edible, so you can eat them together with the flesh and juice. The white film separating the rind from the flesh is edible as well, but most people don't eat it, as it's very bitter.

When choosing passion fruit, look for one that feels heavy and is purple or yellow in colour. The skin may be smooth or wrinkly. The more wrinkled the skin, the riper the fruit. Make sure there’s no discolouration, bruising, or green spots. Green passion fruit isn’t ripe.

You can also make a healthy drink in your juicer as well - sweet with citrusy tanginess and tartness, the perfect combination for a refreshing drink. Just add water, ice, mint leaves and a simple syrup of dissolved sugar - delicious!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan