“Maypop” is the colloquial name for one of North America’s most delicious native fruits: passion fruit (Passiflora incarnata). In this article, we’ll share everything you need to know to find, identify, harvest, grow, and eat this native tropical-flavored delicacy!
Table of contents:
1. Video: Quick look at Passiflora incarnata plants, flowers, and fruit
2. A lifelong love of Passiflora incarnata, a North American native passion fruit
3. All about American passionfruit (history, plant ID, edible parts, proven medicinal uses, and more)
4. How to grow your own native passion fruit from seed or runner
5. How to eat Passiflora incarnata – with recipes!
1. Video: Take a quick look at Passiflora incarnata plants, flowers, and fruit
In the video below, you’ll see native passion fruit (Passiflora incarnata) leaves, flowers, and fruit. Plus, you’ll also see Gulf fritillary butterfly larvae, since passionflower vines are their host plant and the two are often found together.
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2. A lifelong love of Passiflora incarnata, North America’s native passion fruit
I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to go outdoors when I was a kid. Summer days at my parents’ lake house were spent outdoors from morning to night, exploring, fishing, foraging, swimming, and playing with other kids.
In late summer, we’d walk down to an overgrown field in search of ripe “maypops” (our name for the fruit of native purple passionflower plants). The vines sprawled through the field, climbing over taller plants.
Maypops were easy to spot due to their distinctive leaves, but more so due to their strikingly beautiful and ornate purple flowers. By late summer, small egg-sized fruit dangled from the vines or ripened and fell to the ground.
My brother and I would eat our fill of the delicious, tangy tropical-flavored fruit. Afterwards, we’d occasionally engage in a maypop battle, throwing the unopened fruit at one another and laughing when one met its target, creating an explosion of pulp and seeds.
Where does the name maypop come from?
Some say the name “maypop” derives from the plant popping up from the ground each May. Others say it’s due to the pop sound the fruit makes when you accidentally step on it (or hit your sibling with it).
Regardless, decades after my childhood introduction to this plant, The Tyrant and I have now forged an equally passionate relationship with passion fruit up in Greenville, South Carolina, three hours north and west of the family lake house. We grow maypops in our yard and forage them in the wild.
Other than pawpaws, there is no native fruit we like better than passion fruit — and we’d like you to fall in love with this important plant, too!
3. All about American passion fruit
“Isn’t passion fruit a tropical plant?” you might be wondering. Yes and no.
There are lots of species of passion fruit, many of which only grow in tropical regions. Perhaps the most well known species is Passiflora edulis, native to the tropics of South America.
However, Passiflora incarnata is the non-tropical species of passion fruit native to the Southeastern United States (where we live) that produces delicious edible fruits that are roughly the same size as tropical Passiflora edulis.
What species of passionflower are native to the United States?
In addition to the southeast’s Passiflora incarnata, other passionflower species native to the US include:
- Birdwing Passionflower (Passiflora tenuiloba) – Edible fruit; native to New Mexico and Texas.
- Corkystem Passionflower (Passiflora suberosa) – Edible fruit; native to Florida and southern Texas.
- Fetid passionflower (Passiflora foetida) – Edible fruit; native to the Southwest.
- Yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) – Edible fruit, but very small with subpar flavor. Native to the east coast north to Pennsylvania and west to Kansas. We also see this species growing in our area, Upstate South Carolina.
Where do maypops (Passiflora incarnata) grow – what’s their native range?
Maypops primarily grow in the Southeastern United States. However, the plant’s native range extends all the way up to Ohio and Pennsylvania and all the way west to Oklahoma and Kansas.
A sacred plant to America’s indigenous populations
As you might imagine, Native Americans swooned for passion fruit. They also used various parts of the plant medicinally (more on that below).
To the west of us in Georgia and Tennessee is the Ocoee River, a rather unusual sounding name. Its etymology?
The Cherokee word for passion fruit is “u-wa-ga,” and the the area around the Ocoee River was called “u-wa-go-hi,” which translated to “place where the passion fruits grow.” To English speaking ears, this sounded like “o-co-ee,” hence the river’s modern anglicized name.
How did Native American societies use Passiflora incarnata? A USDA NRCS plant guide notes the following:
“The Houma, Cherokee and other Native American tribes used purple passionflower for food, drink, and medicinal purposes. Captain Smith, in 1612, reported that Native Americans in Virginia planted the vines for the fruits. The fruits were eaten either raw or boiled to make syrup. A beverage was made from the fruits by crushing and straining the juice. Sometimes the juice was thickened by mixing it with flour or cornmeal. The young shoots and leaves were eaten, cooked with other greens. The roots were used in an infusion to treat boils, and to “draw out inflammation” of wounds from briers or locusts. Babies were given a tea made from the roots to aid in weaning. The roots were beaten with warm water and used as ear drops to treat earaches. Root infusions were used to treat liver problems. Soaking the crushed roots in drinking water made a “blood tonic.” The plant was also used as a sedative to treat nervous conditions and hysteria.”
How to find and ID maypop passion fruit
If you live in the states shown in the map above, then you have a good shot at finding native passion fruits (from purple passionflower plants) growing in the wild.
Plants grow in open-full sun areas. The edges of fields, roadways, waterways, and other open spots are an ideal place to find passion vines growing in the summer through early fall. (The plants die back to the ground at first frost.)
Unlike many other early succession/pioneer plants, passion fruit is a perennial that grows back from overwintering roots each year.
Here’s how to identify Passiflora incarnata plants and fruit:
- Season – Shoots emerge in late spring. Plants die back to the ground at first frost.
- Growth habit – Vines extend up to 20′, either crawling on the ground or climbing vertically atop taller plants. Perennial, so grow in same spot each year. vigorously sending out underground runners.
- Leaves – Three-lobed, lightly serrated leaves are about the size of a human hand. Lobes terminate in points.
- Flowers – Ornate and showy purple and white-yellow flowers about 2-3″ in diameter when open.
- Fruit – Green-skinned unripe fruit turns to slightly yellow and crinkly when ripe. Mature fruit about the size of a large egg.
Here’s a closer look at a maypop leaf (which is visible early in the year before flowers and fruit appear) to help you with plant ID:
What parts of a maypop plant are edible?
Please note that you should NEVER eat any wild plant that you’re not 100% sure you’ve correctly ID’d and know is edible. You should also avoid eating wild plants in areas where pesticides (including herbicides) are sprayed.
Although the ripe fruit is by far the most delicious part of a maypop plant, all other parts of the plant are technically edible too: roots, leaves, and flowers.
Since passionflower leaves are an important host plant to Gulf fritillary and zebra longwing butterfly larvae/caterpillars and we’d rather they enjoy eating the leaves than us, we don’t tend to utilize them.
How can you tell if maypop fruit is ripe?
From late summer through first frost is the ideal time to find ripe maypops. When they’re ripe, the fruit feels much heavier than non-ripe fruits on the vine and turns a slightly light green/yellow color.
When maypops are REALLY ripe, they often fall off of the vines and can be found on the ground beneath the vines. At this point, they’re usually very sweet with very little of the tang that we enjoy.
Here’s our 5-point guide to help you determine if Passiflora incarnata fruit is ripe:
- Did the whole undamaged fruit fall off the plant on its own? It’s ripe. (Even if the skin is still mostly green.)
- Is the fruit skin slightly yellow and slightly crinkly/soft to the touch (even if fruit is still attached)? Ripe.
- Is the fruit still attached to the vine, but it feels light when you hold it in your hand relative to more mature, heavier fruit on the plant? Unripe.
- When you pop open the skin, does it smell like delicious tropical candy inside with slightly yellow/off-white pulp around the seeds? Ripe.
- When you pop open the skin, does it NOT have much smell and are the seeds/pulp more white in color? Unripe (it will taste bland or sour depending on how undeveloped it is).
Are maypops nutritious or medicinal?
Even though we’ve never seen a nutritional analysis on Passiflora incarnata, it’s likely loaded with Vitamin C and Vitamin A, like its tropical cousin Passiflora edulis.
As mentioned previously, various parts of the purple passionflower plant were used medicinally by Native Americans. There is interesting recent research showing that compounds in the Passiflora incarnata plants serve as a sleep inducer (also aiding in reduced wakefulness) as well as providing better general sleep quality.
The plant’s sleep-conferring benefits may owe to the fact that Passiflora plants contains more gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) than 20 other known plants. (Read more about GABA.)
4. How to grow maypop passion fruit (Passiflora incarnata) from runners or seeds
Does all this talk of passion fruit have you itching to grow these wonderful plants in your garden? We hope so!
Here are some basics you should know first:
- Maypops are vigorous growers and climbers. Each vine can grow 20′ long in a season under ideal conditions. Allowing the plant to climb on a fence or trellis is ideal.
- Maypops are perennial plants. They also send out runners far from their original location. You’ll want to pull these runners if they come up in spots you don’t want (or dig them up and transplant them).
- Maypops grow best in full sun (6+ hours of direct sunlight per day).
- As a native plant, maypops can also tolerate droughts and adverse weather conditions better than many other common garden plants.
- Unlike some other passionflower species, you can plant just one Passiflora incarnata plant and get fruit since they are self-fertile. However, each maypop flower needs cross-pollination to set fruit and not all flowers will fruit. That’s because they are andromonoecious, with each plant producing flowers that are either: a) perfect/hermaphroditic, or b) functionally male.
You can grow maypops by either: 1) digging up rooted runners, or 2) via seed.
Option 1: Growing passion fruit via runners
If you know where a maypop plant is growing in the wild, dig up newly emerged shoots/runners starting about 6″ below the soil surface to ensure there are roots on the plant. Bury roots in damp potting soil in suitably sized container, with shoot and/or leaves above soil surface.
Place the container in a shady spot for 1-2 weeks, keeping the soil damp, but not sopping wet (you want to stimulate root growth, not rot the roots). Once the plant begins to vigorously put on new growth, you can transplant it into its final location in your garden.
Option 2: Growing passion fruit from seed
Know where a wild maypop plant is growing? Great!
Collect seeds from overripe fruit in the late summer or fall. Then immediately sow them in the ground about 1/2 – 1″ deep wherever you want them to come up the following spring. (Or put them in small containers with potting soil and leave them outdoors to overwinter and sprout the next spring.)
Just to be crystal clear here: we recommend sowing your maypop seeds as soon as you get them; don’t wait until the next spring. And you don’t have to worry about cleaning the pulp off the seed before planting – that will just add a little extra nutrition for the sprouting seed.
You can also buy maypop seeds online, but we couldn’t find any seed providers with good customer reviews. (This could possibly owe to the fact that passion fruit seeds seem to need to be planted immediately or they lose viability.)
Maypops can tolerate a wide range of soils, from clay to sand to loam. However, they prefer well-draining soil, and don’t like being in wet, boggy soil. For the first year, until the plant is established, the plant will benefit from getting a bit of irrigation if you’re in a drought period.
Maypop passion fruit pests and diseases
Passiflora incarnata plants are quite disease, pest, and drought-resistant. They can suffer from root knot nematodes (which eat their roots).
Root knot nematodes can be treated by applying predatory nematodes as a root drench. (You can buy predatory nematodes, which are also great at controlling other pests such as fungus gnats on indoor seedlings.)
The other “pests” that can do a good bit of damage to passionflower vines are the larvae of variegated fritillaries, Gulf fritillaries, and Zebra longwing butterflies.
We’d encourage you to share your plants with these beautiful pollinators (even if you find their caterpillars unsightly), rather than using pesticides. Another option: grow two patches of passionflower vines – one for maximum fruit production, the other for maximum butterfly production. Transfer any caterpillars you find on your fruit crop to your pollinator crop.
5. How to eat Passiflora incarnata, native passion fruit
How do you eat maypop/passion fruit?
The simplest way to eat native passion fruit is peeling off the outer skin and plopping the inner seeds and pulp right in your mouth. No preparation needed.
If you go this route, we don’t recommend chewing them, since the seeds are hard. You basically just suck on them and swallow the seeds whole once the flavor is extracted from the pulp surrounding the seeds. Once done, you can also spit out the seeds if you’re averse to ingesting them.
If you gather a bunch of maypops, you can also make a whole range of delicious recipes, ranging from jellies to simple syrups. Since pawpaws and passion fruit can be found at the same time of year, try our passion fruit pawpaw sorbet recipe (which might just be the best thing we’ve ever tasted).
Or if you love homemade probiotics like we do, you can turn your maypops into a delicious probiotic beverage, sparkling passion fruit-Meyer lemon cordial. If you don’t have Meyer lemons handy, you can also substitute citric acid using the simple recipe below.
Maypop passion fruit cordial
A delicious and simple to make tropical-flavored probiotic drink made using native passion fruit (Passiflora incarnata). The bubbles in this recipe are produced via a quick fermentation process that harnesses the power of wild yeasts.
- 1 cup passion fruit pulp (seeds and all)
- 3/4 cup organic cane sugar or honey
- 3 cups water
- 1 tsp citric acid or 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Add all ingredients to large canning jar and stir vigorously until sugar is dissolved.
Place a paper towel or linen cloth over mouth of jar and secure with a rubber band. Keep in cool indoor location (NOT a refrigerator) out of the sun.
Stir mixture vigorously with a clean spoon for 30 seconds at least twice per day (once in the morning and once in the evening). Taste a small amount each time after stirring to track flavor development. Within 3-4 days, you'll notice bubbles developing and a bit of foam on top as native yeasts begin to colonize the mixture, kickstarting the fermentation process.
After 7-10 days, your cordial should be ready. Strain, then bottle and store in fridge for up to 3-6 months. Do NOT store at room temperature or bottles could explode.
Ideal served in small cordial glasses as an apertif or digestif.
Now you know how to find, ID, grow, and eat Passiflora incarnata, aka maypop, a delicious passion fruit native to the United States. Your tastebuds will thank you for years to come, as will native pollinators!
Want to see a quick visual summary of this article? Check out our Google Web Story about native passionfruit!
Other articles you’ll feel passionate about:
- Recipe: passion fruit-Meyer lemon sparkling cordial
- A message from Fred, the Gulf fritillary butterfly (and its host plant, the passion vine)
- Pawpaw passion fruit sorbet
- How to grow fruit year round in your garden
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ShereseApril 23, 2023 at 10:33 pm
I am so excited to find you! I am in the Pee Dee area of South Carolina. I recently found several “May Pop” vines growing in an area near my garden. The garden is already struggling in the dry heat of spring. The May Pops are thriving all on their own! I found them purely by accident! It is as if there was previously a May Pop garden there! I walked out today to take some pictures of the plants I knew were there and found several more I had not even seen the last time I was in that garden! I grew up on this property but moved away for nearly 20 years. I moved back just over a year ago. One of the first things I set out to do was plant a garden. I have my hobby nursery license and sell a few plants online. I have spent the last year learning and observing the native plants on my property. I have identified several native plants that I would like to focus on propagating and possibly adding to my inventory. I learned so much about the May Pop from this article! I just subscribed and looking forward to learning more about your farm. Thank you so very much for sharing!
Aaron von FrankApril 24, 2023 at 11:18 am
Thanks for your kind note, Sherese! Maypop/native passionfruit is such a great and under-appreciated plant. Now that yours is established in your garden, expect it to start vigorously running beyond its original footprint. That vigor isn’t something we consider to be a detriment though. In our experience, there’s only two things that can reduce maypop fruit production or seriously harm the plants: 1) root knot nematode (which can be controlled with predatory nematodes) and 2) the larvae/caterpillars of Gulf fritillary butterflies (which don’t usually do too much damage – see: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/a-message-from-fred-gulf-fritillary-butterfly/). One thing you can do for Gulf fritillary control is have two patches of maypops: one is your production patch and another is your sacrificial patch. Just transfer Gulf fritillary caterpillars from your production to your sacrificial patch as you find them.
I’m not sure if you’ve yet had the chance to eat a ripe maypop, but you’re in for a treat if not. Just make sure you eat them perfectly ripe or a little beyond. Eat them too early and they’re sour and not very flavorful. Perfectly ripe and they’re absolutely delicious.
Lastly, good on you for focusing on some of the native plants in our area! You might want to join and participate in the SC Native Plant Society: https://scnps.org/.
ShereseMay 4, 2023 at 11:09 pm
Thanks for taking the time to reply and providing such great information.
Lois LuckovichApril 8, 2023 at 10:08 am
Thanks very much for the info and recipe. I don’t know if maypops will grow where I am on the West Coast of Canada but I’ll get some seeds and give them a try!
Susan von FrankApril 8, 2023 at 11:11 pm
You’re welcome! Please check back in to let us know if and how Passiflora incarnata grows for you there!
Tammy PelottoSeptember 6, 2022 at 6:58 pm
So glad I found this website! I do have one question, if you don’t mind. Are maypops safe for chickens? We would like to plant some around the coop so it will help shade the coop during Alabama’s hot summers, but not sure it is safe for chickens. Any advice? Thanks so much!
Aaron von FrankSeptember 7, 2022 at 12:38 pm
Hi and thanks, Tammy! We raise ducks and native passionfruit/maypops in the same area. Our ducks don’t touch the leaves or the fruit.
As for whether chickens can safely eat maypops, I reached out to a chicken-raising friend who also grows maypops and she said: “Chickens will eat maypop fruit, but they don’t seem interested in the vines. However, the less greenery they have in a run, the more experimental they’ll get.” (Read: If they’re bored or hungry for greens, they’ll eat things they might not normally eat, like maypop vines and leaves.)
A couple of other thoughts: since chickens tend to scratch up the ground and destroy tender young plants, it actually might be the maypop plants you’d need to worry about protecting from the chickens more so than protecting the chickens from the maypops. Perhaps you could put up some temporary caging/fencing around the base of the maypops plants where the vines emerge from the soil until you get a better sense of how your chickens and maypops get along. Otherwise, the chickens might not give the maypops a chance to get established.
Hope this helps and good luck growing native passionfruit!
Rhonda HugginsSeptember 3, 2021 at 4:37 pm
We just discovered these growing over our backyard fence!! The vine is amongst other uncultivated ‘squash’ vines. Neither of us had any idea what it was other than I thought it looked like a passion flower…growing wild in Arkansas?? With a little investigation we found our plant. Since it has been growing successfully without our intervention, we see no reason to change…but we would like an opportunity to try the fruit when ripe. How can we protect the fruit without pesticides. Have heard that you can loosely wrap melons…but would that work for a maypop?
Aaron von FrankSeptember 4, 2021 at 1:10 pm
Hi Rhonda! Congrats for finding native passionfruit in your backyard. As for protecting the fruit: there’s nothing you need to do other than let the fruit ripen. The only “pests” that could potentially damage the ripening fruit are Gulf fritillary butterfly larvae/caterpillars since that’s their only host plant. The caterpillars predominantly eat the leaves, but they will occasionally eating the skin of the fruit – especially when they run out of leaves. Some of your fruit should be at least starting to ripen or will be ripe soon. Enjoy!
Betty SlighJuly 18, 2021 at 3:25 pm
Where can I purchase some fruit?
Aaron von FrankJuly 19, 2021 at 8:54 am
This isn’t a fruit we’ve ever seen at a grocery store or farmer’s market. Good news: if you live in the southeast, there’s likely passion fruit (specifically Passiflora incarnata) growing near you right now that is either ripe or very close to being ripe. You just need to learn how to identify it. The large, ornate purple flowers and relatively large fruit are pretty unique and hard to mistake. It tends to grow in “edge” type ecosystems – weedy areas full of pioneer plants in border areas between forests and open fields.
KellySeptember 27, 2020 at 2:13 pm
I have nibbled on MayPops since being a kid. I have several fences that are covered in a thick lush wall of their dark green vines and tempting fruits. Lately, I have read lots of people saying the plants are toxic. Is their truth to this?
Aaron von FrankSeptember 27, 2020 at 10:21 pm
Hi Kelly! Passiflora incarnata, the native passionfruit species endemic to the eastern United States, is NOT poisonous/toxic. That includes all parts of the plant: the fruit, leaves, and flowers. It’s possible people are confusing this species with another plant, as sometimes happens. So just be certain that your vining plants are indeed Passiflora incarnata. For the record, I’ve been foraging and eating native passionfruit since I was a young child, and I’m still very much alive as of the writing of this comment. 🙂
Kristin WestSeptember 26, 2020 at 10:31 pm
Do you have a recipe for Passionflower jam/jelly? I have ½ acre that I bought 2 years ago. I ripped out every plant growing, except for one American Hazelnut, and replanted the entire property with native species. I have 2 Passiflora incarnata and would love some recipes. I’m planning on harvesting all of my edible berries soon and making some organic native plant jams/jellies. I have Black Chokeberry, Red Chokeberry, Blackhaw Viburnum, Nannyberry, River Grape, Spicebush, and Blueberries as well.
Aaron von FrankSeptember 27, 2020 at 1:44 pm
Wow, wish you were our neighbor! 🙂 We don’t currently have a passionfruit jelly recipe, but we (and family) have made it before. The main thing, which is pretty obvious, is you’ll want to cook the pulp then strain the seeds. Once you have the passionfruit juice separated just weigh/measure it and follow pretty much any good jelly recipe from there. And if you come up with some good chokeberry/black aronia recipes, please let us know!
David PhillipsJuly 28, 2020 at 8:22 pm
arches. I have transplanted ten plants to my back property line that are growing very fast. I dig a 6 inch ball to get enough root to start. This will take several years to get what I want. I am 82 years old, but very optimistic.
Aaron von FrankJuly 30, 2020 at 1:10 pm
Thanks for sharing your passion fruit info, David! Question: are you saying you’ve gotten passion vine cuttings to root? We’ve never tried that so would be curious to know if they’re able to root that way.
David PhillipsJuly 28, 2020 at 8:15 pm
I have many of these plants in my front yard. They have spread so much that I decided to let them take over . I bought 6 metal arch frames to train the plants and will need more. I dig the plants that go too far into my yard and plant them in other places (and near the legs of the 6 supports). I will plant the seed at the legs of the frames until they cover evenly.. I am planting cuttings using root stimulation where I need more coverage. Some vines have reached the top of the 7 foot arches in 2 weeks. I will continue to transplant at the legs of the