The picture above is the fruit of Tennessee’s State Wildflower – Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata. I can report reliably that it is edible, similar to the species which is frequently cultivated in tropical regions – Passiflora edulis, although P. incarnata fruit is typically smaller than that of P. edulis. Passiflora incarnata is a plant native to the United States, while Passiflora edulis has been introduced to the United States and is found in the wild in Georgia and Florida.
The flavor of P. incarnata is tartly-sweet. My daughter Amie, who snacked on it routinely as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, says it reminds her of the Nerds candy she loved as a child. However, it’s a bit of a chore enjoying the flavor, and getting past the slimy texture of the mass of seeds may put some folks off.
There are many seeds inside the fruit, imbedded in a slimy covering. It is this gelatinous covering that provides the tart flavor of the fruit, and extricating the seeds from the goo can be a tedious task. This difficulty might also be one of the reasons the fruit of our native passionflower is not a well-known wild snack.
The fruit of Passiflora incarnata is fairly small, a bit larger than a golf ball. I was expecting it to start turning purple as it ripened, but that wasn’t the case, as is seen in the photo below. The fruit stays green, gaining tinges of yellow as it ripens. This photo is an example of a properly-ripened fruit.
If you wait too long, when the fruit has much of a yellow color, it’s really too ripe. At this point the fruit will have a sweeter flavor, but it is to me more of a rotten-sweet flavor than a sugary sweet flavor. I much preferred the flavor of the less-ripe fruit.
I’m not real experienced with this fruit. As I mentioned in an update to my 6/25/09 post (Flower of the Day: Purple Passion Flower – Tennessee State Wildflower) the Georgia Department of Transportation (doing their job, so I can’t really hold it against them) mowed the batch of passionflowers I had photographed in blossom, so I didn’t have any plants to watch as they matured. However, my sister Ann, who lives outside of Nashville, had a colony that was growing on her barn, so she harvested several of them, tasted them, and forwarded several of them on to me by my granddaughter Sydney. We’ve determined that for the better, tart flavor, you need to harvest and eat the fruit just as it starts to soften – you should be able to squeeze it gently and have it give just a bit. If if crushes easily like the one above, it’s probably past the best flavor.
So, Passiflora incarnata not only has beautiful wildflowers, it also has fruit that can make an… interesting… treat. Check out more photographs of this interesting plant at USWildflowers’ detail page on Passiflora incarnata.Disclaimer: Please do not eat any plant based on my written recommendation. I am not an expert and may be wrong. You may not properly identify the plant. You may have an unexpected allergic reaction to a plant that others can eat safely. (I’m sure that if I had lawyers, they would force me to include the above statement, probably in unintellible language.)