The Considerate Uninvited Guest

If you’ve seen a boastfully bright orange butterfly beating about your bushes, there may be a passionflower vine hiding in plain sight.

Sometimes, uninvited guests can actually be helpful. That’s the case with the passionflower vines that may be coexisting with your shrubs. Depending on where you live in San Antonio, you might discover several of these stealthy pollinator plants loitering around your yard.

In addition to being great nectar sources for many pollinators, the passionflower vines native to Bexar County are the larval host plants to the gulf fritillary, zebra longwing and Julia heliconian butterflies. If you have these vines in your yard, these butterflies will be drawn to your garden. And the fruits are appealing to birds, so if you didn’t plant the vine its seed was probably a gift from a winged friend.

Let’s get to know these vines.

Bracted and yellow passionflower vines (Passiflora affinis and Passiflora lutea), are similar looking vines that I’ve noticed most often in gardens on the North Side. They sprout well in shady protected areas, and manicured hedges are ideal nurseries. I’ve seen many neatly trimmed boxwoods and Indian hawthorns with the characteristic leaves of bracted passionflower nestled within. The flowers are small but intricate and the fruits are small and dark purple. To see if either of these vines have volunteered in your yard, look for their unique leaves. Yellow passionflower has a three-lobed leaf, that I think resembles the outline of a cowboy hat. Bracted passionflower has three to five lobes that are much deeper.

The passionflower with the strangest leaf is definitely bird wing passionflower (Passiflora tenuiloba). I’ve seen bird wing passionflower growing in yards and under trees in north, central and south Bexar County. So no matter where you live in San Antonio, there’s a possibility some grows near you. That said, it’s difficult to spot as the slender leaves tend to blend into whatever it is growing with. The flowers and fruit are similar in appearance to bracted and yellow passionflower.

The passionflower that breaks the mold is Corona de Cristo (Passiflora foetida). If it takes up residence in your landscape you’ll know it. The flowers are large and showy and they give way to large, bright red fruit. Corona de Cristo tends to be more common in the clay soils of central and south San Antonio. I’ve got a couple of these growing along my fence, right where the birds planted them.

San Antonio has committed to conserving monarch habitat and many of the actions taken as part of it will help other species, too. You can do your part by identifying and protecting host plants in your garden as well.

Native plants have gotten the reputation for being hard to find in the nursery trade, but if you’re lucky one of these native vines might find you. I invite you to take a look around your yard, especially if you’ve seen a gulf fritillary in your garden, you might find it was drawn in by a hiding passionflower vine.

Picture of Cleveland Powell
Cleveland Powell
Cleveland Powell is a conservation planner for SAWS. He is enthusiastic about grass taxonomy and milkweed propagation. In his free time, Powell enjoys hiking around area parks in search of intriguing bugs, birds and plants.
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