This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The tribe to which the Passiflora belongs is called, in the natural system of Botany, the tribe of the Passifloracae. It belongs to the sixteenth class, second order, of the system of Linne.
The tribe of the Passifloracae embraces the Disemma, the Murucuja, the Napoleona, the Passiflora, the Smeathmannia, and the Tacsonia. The Disemmae, Murucujae, and Tacsoniae resemble so much the Passifloracae proper, that formerly they all were called Passifloracae, and that I need not separate them here, their general habitus being the same as well as their treatment. The Passiflora proper consists, according to Decandolle, of eight groups, viz.: As-trophea, Polyanthea, Tetrapathaea, Cieca, Decaloba, Granadilla, Tacsonioides, and Dyosmia. I omit, however, here to describe the botanical differences of the groups from each other, because they are of no practical value to the amateur; they are interesting to the botanist only.
By far the greatest majority of them are natives of South America and the West Indies. Some few are found in the United States as far north as Virginia and Maryland (f. i., P. incarnata), and, as far as I know, in the island of Madeira (P. Lowei). The Napoleona and Smeathmannia belong to Africa. Nearly all of them are perennial climbers. Only a few grow every year from the root, the canes dying in the fall.
They are, with very few exceptions, most beautiful plants in every respect. The form of the leaves, their glossy color, in some kinds different on the two sides, and the great profusion in which they are produced, together with the climbing habit of the plants, would make them very attractive to many, even aside from their flowers and the edible fruit of some. The latter, though different in flavor, according to the kinds which bear it, is not palatable to some, if their taste should not have been educated by early training. But the flowers are so beautiful and elegant, so peculiar and striking in shape, so brilliant and varied in color, that even persons destitute of taste and obtuse in mind and feeling can not look at a blooming Passi-flora without some admiration. Several years ago I had a large number of kinds planted out; sixty-one of them flowered together during the summer. They attracted the attention of those passing by to such a degree that they stood still to admire the magnificent and lovely sight.
The pious fancy of some people imagined to see the crucifixion of Christ typified in the flower of the Passiflora. They gave to each part of it a certain significance, derived from the cross and the crown of thorns, and they beheld it with a kind of religious reverence. This fact shows the unusual peculiarity the flower presents.
The size of the flower varies very much in different kinds. Some measure from five to six inches in diameter; others not much more than an eighth of an inch: some bear their flowers singly from leaf to leaf, toward the end of young shoots; others in long racemes - so I may be permitted to call them - often protruding from the old wood: some are of a pure white color; others are blue, red, purple, brown, or have mixed colors in their different parts. Even should they be less conspicuous, they all will, on closer inspection, be found to be elegant. While many of them are inodorous, a good number are deliciously fragrant, only very few being fetid (f. i., P. filamentosa).
I have been passionately fond of the Passiflora as long as I can remember. Before I came to this country I had a large collection of species and varieties. Hardly had I found a sure footing here, when I commenced hunting up every kind within my reach. Messrs. Parsons, Buchanan, Donadi, Cadness, Fuller, and others, will perhaps remember how often I applied to them, either personally or by letter, for Passion flowers. After I had brought together what was to be found here, I imported largely from Europe, until I was in possession of a hundred and thirty-five kinds. Dr. Kegel, of St. Petersburg, Russia, editor of the Garden Flora, expressed in that magazine the belief that my collection was the largest in existence. Then, however, it had reached its culminating point.
Mr. Geitner, of Planitz, who died not long ago, sent me once a considerable number, carelessly labeled and packed. Unable to find out the names of many, and without any hope to accomplish this here, I turned away from them in disgust; for even the most beautiful plant without a correct name is of little value to me. Now, another difficulty arose from the fact that I had no green - house; my friends here having the management of such could not accommodate me any longer, retaining their old and getting new plants every year. Diffident in such matters as I am, I shrank from making an application to them, and they were prevented from offering me the services of their houses. Being left to my own resources, I lost a great many during the next winter, which sad circumstance compelled me to give up the culture of the Passiflora with great reluctance and with an almost bleeding heart. In the attempt to get rid of them I succeeded admirably, beyond expectation. A certain firm in New York, not now in existence, agreed to sell them for me. I packed and sent to it 280 pots; they arrived in New York and - disappeared. The remembrance of them is perfectly pure, it being not tarnished by any monetary transaction, for I never received a single cent for them. But, no, I am not quite correct.
Accidentally, some few had been overlooked in my garden, which were bought and honestly paid for by a gentleman in New York.
So far as external circumstances are concerned, I have enjoyed every opportunity of cultivating them. In Germany, I grew them under glass; here, I planted them out. I succeeded in dwarfing some; I grafted them; I propagated them by layers, cuttings, and pieces of the root; I hybridized and crossed them, and produced from the seeds sown some fine varieties. In the following article I will explain the method I have found to be the best by an experience of many years. In doing so I shall not consult any books, but write from notes and from memory. I wish I were able to induce many to cultivate so charming a tribe of plants!
[to be continued].