While walking my dog in Athens, I saw, rambling close to the sidewalk, the leaves of the native yellow passionflower vine, Passiflora lutea. I had never noticed it in Athens before, which made me wonder if it’s uncommon or just inconspicuous. It’s both. And it’s a coveted native plant for wildflower enthusiasts, and commercially hard to find.
Passiflora lutea’s shallowly-lobed leaves could easily be mistaken for baby kudzu, which might cause someone to yank it out of their yard, understandably so. The flower is greenish-yellow, an inch or less in size, and slightly covered by the leaves, making them difficult to notice, and perhaps to appreciate, as well. Those who notice will see a precious, intricate little flower, and long, spiraling tendrils. The leaves sometimes have subtle variegation, which is quite attractive.
I first saw Passiflora lutea in abundance along a trail on the South Carolina side of the Chattooga River. Since then, I saw it growing at Autry Mill Park in Johns Creek, GA (formerly Alpharetta), and now I’m seeing it in Athens. In each of these places, P. lutea was growing in the shade.
I looked at the USDA Plant Database distribution map, which shows its distribution from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas east, and from Florida to Pennsylvania. These are also the states to which the plant is native, so clearly it hasn’t spread much.
Yellow passionflower is listed as endangered in Pennsylvania, while the Southern Weed Science Society considers it weedy and potentially invasive. Is this huge discrepancy a case of beauty residing in the eye of the beholder?
The University of Texas at Austin’s Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center–Native Plant Database lists yellow passionflower as a major food source for several species of butterfly larvae, including the Julia Heliconican, Mexican & Gulf fritillaries butterflies, and Zebra & Crimson-patch long-wing butterflies.
Medicinally, P. lutea will have some similar sedating nervine effects as Passiflora incarnata, or purple passionflower; however, it’s too uncommon to sustainably harvest. The fruits are edible, as are purple passionflower’s. If you are lucky enough to have this growing in your yard, let the fruits dry, collect the seeds, and start a P. lutea nursery.
P.S. – I’ve also now seen a small vine of P. lutea near the banks of the North Oconee River on the greenway near Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, and on a wooded trail behind the UGA Intramural Fields.