Chestnut Herbal School

Passionflower, from seed to fruit and back again


Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, Passifloraceae) is a short-lived perennial native vine to the southeastern US, with gorgeous flowers and interesting foliage. It is weedy in much of its native range; and fairly easy to grow elsewhere, especially if its given a wall or trellis to climb up. The leaves and flowers are an important nervine sedative and are used to help promote sleep and alleviate pain, such as menstrual cramps and headaches. Following are some important details on saving passionflower seed and its germination.

Passionflower pulp before fermentation

Pictured below is fermenting passionflower seed pulp. Many fleshy fruits have germination-inhibiting factors in their pulp, and the seeds will not sprout unless they are cleaned free of these chemicals. In nature, the elements will take care of this process, as will the hydrochloric acid in the stomach of a seed disperser (imagine a little box turtle eating a maypop and pooping the seed far from the parent plant, cleaned free of the pulp, and amended with the nitrogenous gold of turtle excrement).  So, how does one mimic the digestive processes of a box turtle, or twenty-three snowstorms for that matter, when one wants hundreds of passionflower sprouts? One enlists the help of the invisible, yet omnipotent.

Put the seeds in some water, cover with a porous cloth to keep out the fruit flies, and let the omnipresent bacteria and fungal spores have a party in your favorite crock or mason jar. After 3-5 days wash free of pulp and if all the pulp isn’t gone, add fresh water and repeat. Eventually the fermenting mush will just be seed, which you can dry and store until spring planting, or plant fresh if appropriate. You can use this technique with the fruits of spikenard, blue cohosh, tomatoes, jack in the pulpit, and ashwagandha as well.

Passionflower pulp almost fermented away

Cleaning fully fermented seeds

Passionflower dry seeds ready for storage

Scarification – Many seeds have a thick impervious seed coat that must be nicked or cracked before the seed can germinate. You can rub the seeds between two pieces of sand paper until you see a little bit of the endosperm (embryo nutrient reserves, usually a lighter color and different texture than the seed coat). Sometimes this is done before stratifying seeds and sometimes at the time of sowing. Astragalus, wild indigo, hollyhock, licorice, marshmallow, passionflower, red root, and rue are some of the herbs that will germinate better with scarification.

Scarification of Passionflower seeds

Passionflower germinating

Passionflower germinates in warm temperatures (70 degrees F plus) and can be transplanted when it develops its "true" leaves. Hold on to your seed tray as it will often continue to germinate over time.

Passionflower vine on a bamboo trellis

Passionflower flower

Pick your fruit when it begins to turn yellow and the seeds are hard and black. If the frost is   coming before the fruits are ripe, pick them all and put them into a closed brown paper bag for 1-2 weeks to let the seed mature. Break them open, scoop out the pulp and begin the fermentation process, described above. The pulp surrounding the seeds is edible and delicious!

Passionflower immature fruit

43 thoughts on “Passionflower, from seed to fruit and back again

  1. Erica V Johnson Ellison says:

    I just discovered several passion flowers growing that I didn’t plant. They bloom during the early day and close up during the evening. They’ve done this for several days. Is this normal behavior? They have already grown over 5ft.

    • Christine Borosh says:

      Yes, this is common for passionflower. The flowers usually only last for a day and close up at night. However, with more established plants, you’ll get new blooms opening up each day!

  2. Thank you for the article. I live in southern NM and have bought passion fruit at the grocery store, cleaned and scarified the seeds and had great results with germination. Far more plants than I can use. I’ve read its best to have at least two plants for pollination purposes. They are on the deck, shaded by a tree in one of the sunniest cities in the country. I bring them in the house during winter.
    Alas, after 2-3 years, my six potted plants grew 5-6′ tall, never produced a single bud or blossom, ever. Any advise?

    • Christine Borosh says:

      A few things come to mind:
      1 – When starting from seed, passionflower can take several years to get established before blooming. Since passionflower seeds can be a challenge to germinate, many people purchase established plants and those will bloom much more quickly than plants started from seed. You might just need to wait a little longer!
      2 – Over-fertilizing can lead to the plant producing more vegetative growth at the expense of flowers/fruit. Make sure that you aren’t using too much fertilizer.
      3 – Container size is another thing to consider. Passionflower plants get quite unruly in the wild and can become weedy very quickly. The plants spread by runners and if they aren’t in a large enough container to allow this, they won’t be happy and this could affect flower production.

      I hope this helps! Here’s to passionflower blooms in your future 🙂

  3. Stefan Graftén says:

    Juliet, thank you for the great pictures and information.
    Fermitation isn’t wrong and is how nature intended but in my experience with P. Edulis that step was not needed, a stainless steel strainer to break down the pulp, dry the seeds and plant with under heat.

    A question for you, are P. Edulis leaves and flower also considered medicinal? Can one induce dried leaves or flower from this plant, i.e. as a tea?

    I grow P. Edulis and P. Violacea in Sweden.

    • You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

      Passiflora edulis is grown throughout the tropics for its edible pulp, however it has different effects on the body and can’t be substituted for Passiflora incarnata. We are only writing about Passiflora incarnata here; this information can’t be applied to other species in the genus (which may have some toxicity or may not be medicinal at all).

  4. Great post! I moved from South Texas to Central New Mexico and brought some of the S. Texas native Passiflora foetida with me. I was pleasantly surprised to see it bloom and fruit outside of its native range. It has wonderful pink blooms and red fruit. Would you recommend the fermentation process described above for other species of passiflora?

    • Christine Borosh says:

      Yes, while Passiflora incarnata is the only species we recommend using medicinally, you can use the same propagation strategies to grow other Passionflower species.

  5. I live in Western Pennsylvania, winter’s definitely make it impossible to grow passion flowers year round. I do have a passion flower in a hanging basket it is very prolific. Can I over winter this indoors this winter? It would be such a shame to let it die this fall. Thank you for your reply.

    • Sara Kinney says:

      I think it should be possible. I imagine that the foliage would still die back indoors due to less light in the winter, and then new shoots would emerge in the spring.

  6. I have a seed starter tray with 50 individual slots about 2″ wide and 4″ deep. Can I sow more than one seed per slot? Also should I cover them while germinating? Tia

  7. I started some Passiflora incarnata in January, and I now have 4 plants with 4 leaves on each. 2 of them have a characteristic tri-lobed leaf as their fourth leaf, but the other 2 have rounded fourth leaves. Does this have anything to do with plant gender? Any ideas? Thanks.

    • Congratulations on your success with growing Passionflower from seed! I think that is just some early variation in leaf shape and does not point to plant gender. Enjoy growing these amazing plants! Be well 🙂

  8. I just picked lots of green round seed pods from several passion fruit vines. I would love to plant the seeds. They r still green so do I need to let the pods sit for a while, cut them open and let them dry on the inside or what. I live in Arkansas Thanks

  9. Please answer and let me know if you have a place I can order passion fruit seeds. I am almost 72 (7/3/42) and would love to see one alive and growing before I’m too old to enjoy it!

  10. I’m a Yankee now living in Missouri and I have passionflower growing out back. Lovin’ it. Printed out your seed saving instructions and maybe I just missed it….do the seeds require a rest / refrigeration period before being planted? Thanks so much.

    • Suzy,
      Sometimes fruits will set when pollination has not taken place. Maybe hand-pollinate the flowers next time by taking a small paintbrush and transering the pollen from one flower to the three stigmas on the top of another flower. Antoher thought, do you have more than one plant? Sometimes flowers from the same plant will not produce viable seed….Good luck.

  11. My Lady Margaret has open it bloom for the first time this AM and I am planning to pollinate it this afternoon
    Want to know if this will be correct

    1.- Cut the antlers and put them in a baby jar
    2.- Rub a Qtip on the pollen
    3.- Rub the pollen on the stigmas

    How will I know if what I did is correct?

    Will this produce any fruit?

    • Juan,
      Congratulations! Not sure what you mean by antlers? But step 2 and 3 seems right on. It would be helpful to use separate flowers and separate plants if you have them, as the pollen is more likely to take. Honestly, I usually let the bees do their thing and it results in lots of fruit, so I don’t have any experience in the matter. you should know in a few days if a little green ball starts growing where the flower was.

  12. We just moved into a house with an established large vine. What is the best way to care for and prune this lovely lady? I have grown passionflower in the past, but that plant was very young. I am very excited to experience this plant and all of its cycles of growth. Your post came at the best time! Thanks as always for your work!

    • Dalene,
      If your passionflower is the same species (many of the ornamental passionflowers are different species) it doesnt need pruning, just a little fertilizer (compost tea, worm castings, etc) and water if its super dry. Harvest it when its looking good and so are you:)
      thanks for visiting!

  13. Beautiful pix! And I will want to purchase some too. I’m wondering if we might have some on our 12 wooded acres in Candler. Tomás thinks he’s identified the leaves. Do you think it could be?

    • could be, does it have alternate leaves with three lobes and two little dots (extra-floral nectaries) on the petiole? tendrils? grow in a field? mandala flowers you could gaze at for three and a half hours straight? then yes, it is passionflower….

  14. Sara Kinney says:

    So beautiful…and will you be selling some of these to your earnest blog readers at the Farmer’s Market Herb Festival this year? I hope to buy one!

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