Although passionflowers look strangely exotic, there are six species native to Florida. Some of these passion vines serve as the larval host plant for heliconian butterflies, including the gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), julia (Dryas iulia), and zebra (Heliconius charithonia). These butterflies lay their eggs on new growth of passion vines, which is later devoured by their caterpillars. In response, some passion vines have developed specialized glands that produce nectar apart from the flower. These extrafloral nectaries attract ants, which in turn may eat the caterpillars feasting on the plant.
The pale pineland passionflower (Passiflora pallens) is an endangered native Florida species that occurs in hammock habitats. This passionflower is a woody vine with coiling tendrils and mostly white flowers. After fertilization, the flowers produce green, egg-shaped fruits. Specifically, pineland passionflower does not seem to be a preferred host for heliconian butterflies – perhaps this plant is winning the evolutionary battle right now. Don’t miss the pineland passionflower growing up sabal palm trees near the Smith River of Grass and Lea Asian Garden at Naples Botanical Garden.
Author: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education, Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published in the News-Press.