Climbers are great space savers and urban gardeners prefer them the most. While some climbers like orange trumpet, Rangoon creeper, icecream creeper, Japanese honeysuckle, clitoria, Morning Glory, thunbergia, etc. are grown purely for ornamental purposes, many other climbers are grown for the vegetables they provide such as various gourds, cucumbers and beans.
Yet others yield sweet fruits like water melon, tasty cantaloupe, musk melon and grapes as well. Then there is tinosporia chordifolia (amrutaballi in Kannada) that is grown for its medicinal qualities. But there is one climber that is adored by garden enthusiasts because it bears both beautiful flowers as well as juicy fruits. This climber is none other than the common passion flower!
Botanically known as passiflora with various varieties, it is a fast growing woody climber bearing exotic flowers. Its leaves are generally four inches long and four inches wide and generally tri-lobed with serrate margin. Though there is nothing unusual in the climber, it is the complex flower that makes the climber special. Flowers are generally of the size of about two inches in diameter. Large conical buds of about 1.25-inch length and one-inch width, are covered with three large hairy bracts. When the flower blooms, we can see five sepals, and five petals (alternately arranged), all looking similar in shape, size and colour as well and hence collectively called tepals. If the beauty of the flower inspires poets, its pleasant powdery, sweet and fruity flavour activates the taste buds of food lovers.
In India, it is known as clock flower due to its similarity with the wall clock, with its filaments radiating from the centre. The fruit, of the size of an orange, yellowish green in colour, is used in making juice out of its yellow pulp.
Years back, when a seedling of this climber grew on its own in my little gardening strip, I could hardly recognise it at first. Since such seedlings of road lining trees like spathodea, markhamia, millingtonia, albizzia, bauhinia etc. do grow sometimes, I did not pay much attention. But on a closer look I could recognise it and retained it. Perhaps it grew out of the seeds of the climber my neighbour had in her garden. It grew so fast that before I could make an arrangement of a suitable support, it found its way through the adjoining grill and climbed to my balcony at the second floor with the help of its tendrils. It was only then that I could make a temporary arrangement for the climber to grow up to my hanging pots. However, it did utilise the facility very well and to my delight, it bloomed into numerous attractive off-white coloured delicate flowers! In due course, even when the flowers turned into round orange-like yellow fruits. The foliage was still thick and it provided a nice virtual curtain for our balcony.
While the variety with cream coloured flower is common in Bangalore, the variety with blue coloured flower is quite common in the Western Ghats, where I hail from. Of late, a red coloured flower variety has made its presence in the market. Many more varieties have been developed by the horticulturists. This is ideal cover for compounds, pergolas, fences etc and can create false curtains for small balconies. No special care is needed except regular watering. Like any other plant it appreciates well drained organically rich soil and enough sunlight.