BY LORI MURRAY
The symbolism of the Passion Flower, a native of the tropical Americas, was discerned by a Mexican Augustinian friar, Emmanuel de Villegas, who named it for the Passion (suffering and death) of Christ.
It is one of the oldest religious flower symbols and its symbolism combines a number of the symbols found in flowers individually in the early traditions of the rural countryside. These symbols gave a specific focus of Christian faith to nature and also provided a visual means of teaching the gospel in an era when there were no printed catechisms.
In East Texas, a thoroughly American legend surrounds the passion flower at Easter. The first Roman Catholic missionaries saw in the flower a fanciful representation of the Lord’s passion on Good Friday. To these early botanists, every part of the early flower symbolized some aspect of Christ’s crucifixion.
The central flower column represented the pillar of the Scourging and the spiraled tendrils represented the lash. The purple corona was the Crown of Thorns. The top three stigma were the three nails and the lower 5 anthers were Christ’s five wounds. The red stains were drops of Christ’s blood. Lastly, the round fruit produced by the plant was the world Christ came to save. The 5 petals and 5 sepals became the ten apostles (omitting Peter and Judas ) who remained faithful to Jesus throughout the Passion.
For plants with a three-lobed leaf, the leaf symbolized the spear that pierced His side and the spots on the leaf represented the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas for His betrayal. The five lobed leaf, in contrast, represented the hands of Christ’s tormentors. The tendril which led to the fruit was the cord with which He was whipped and the fruit was the sponge filled with vinegar to quench His thirst.
Although these tales may seem overly imaginative today, they are still popular with children and could be a welcome addition to nature study classes.
There are about 400 different species of passion flower, most of which are twining and evergreen tropical vines. But the one that covers the southern part of the United States as far west as Lee County in Texas is the maypop, a woody climbing vine that bears a large purplish and white flower and bears a yellow fruit about the size of a small apple. It grows in abundance in the fields of East Texas, sometimes becoming thick enough to choke out the crops.
In more arid regions, the passion flower is considered as desirable as the morning glory and seeds are sold commercially on the market. Here in the Valley, the passionflower can become invasive if not carefully controlled.
SOURCES: aggie horticulture
WHEN: Wednesday, April 19
TIME: 11 a.m. – noon
WHERE: Extension Building
WHEN: Saturday April 22,
TIME: 9 –12 p.m.
WHERE: At the Arboretum behind the county Extension Office on the corner of Williams Road and Expressway Frontage.