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Banana Passion Fruit
Passiflora mollissima

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Passiflora Mollissima: The Banana Passion Fruit

P.mollisima passion fruit flower.

Passiflora Mollissima, the banana passion fruit, is a tasty and easy to grow member of the passiflora family. The fruit is also known in South America as “curaba,” “tintin,” “tumbo,” and “trompos.” The vine grows to over 20ft, and is a vigorous grower. The bright pink flowers attract hummingbirds, as well as being a favorite food of the butterflies. The flowers bloom continuously throughout the year, and during the spring my yard is often full of butterflies which have managed to find the plant despite the lack of other wildlife-friendly plants in the suburban environment. The fruit forms on long pendules, and turn from a dark green, to a mix of yellow and green, to a darker yellow when fully ripe.

P. mollissima is native to the Andes, and is found wild in Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia. Found at high altitudes (5400 to 10,500 feet) in those countries, the banana passion fruit prefers a cooler and less humid environment than other passion flowers.

Started from seed, my passiflora mollissima started fruiting within a year and a half. From a fresh fruit, the seeds germinate very readily when planted in peat moss and set in a warm spot, and you'll need to thin the hundreds of resulting plants.

Passiflora mollissima produces dozens of large, bright yellow fruits. The fruits hang, hidden, deep within the foliage of the plant. Vines also have the tendency to fall to the ground because of the weight of the fruit, so it's best to secure the vines as they grown against a wall. You can tell when they're ripe when the fruit is easily pulled from the vine--the interior should be a deep, dark orange. Unlike the more common passiflora edulis, passiflora mollissima is fairly sweet, and when very ripe can be eaten out of hand. In our yard, more fruit ends up in my four year old's stomach than in the house. Also, unlike passiflora edulis, the pulp is not nearly as juicy. When unripe, the fruit is a bit astringent, so it's best to pick it ripe or let it ripen off the vine for a couple of days before eating.

Ripe fruit ready for the picking.

Unfortunately, the banana passion fruit also is known as a noxious weed. In Hawaii, it's known as the "Banana Poka," is designated by the state as a prohibited noxious weed targeted for eradication, and has taken over a significant amount of the forests of Kauai, the Big Island, and Maui. Spread by another non-native invader, the feral pig, as well as birds, the banana passion fruit has been directly blamed for driving at least three native plant species near extinction. A yearly “Banana Poka Festival” held every May in Kauai teaches locals to help find and remove the plant in the forests, and to make baskets and other crafts from the leaves. The vine has also become a serious weed in South Island New Zealand, as well as South Africa. It’s definitely not for planting in any of these areas, and in fact is the target of campaigns for eradication where it is considered a weed. Hikers and visitors to Hawaii are asked to immediately uproot and destroy any plants they might come upon, in order to help to reduce the impact of the vine on the environment.

Inside of a banana passion fruit.

Here in Moorpark, California, you can easily see why this plant could become a weed. Despite winter temperatures in the low 20’s, my passiflora mollissima has not only survived, but thrived. Every time I've gotten a hard frost, the exterior foliage has been damaged--which appears to have the effect of stimulating the plant to flower and fruit. Where I've unsuccessfully been able to grow any other kind of passion fruit because of the cold, numerous p. mollissima plants have succeeded.

I've found planted up against the shady side of a wall, the plant does very well, despite the wide variation in temperature and cold winters I have. The one problem I've had is the loss of one plant due to cold wet feet, in an area with poor drainage where I also lost a papaya. Experts recommend regularly pruning the vines to enhance fruit production, but I've found that I get more than enough fruit with benign neglect.

Vine in Moorpark, California.

Banana passion fruit is an interesting fruit, provides beautiful flowers, and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. If you live outside of areas where passiflora mollissima is likely to escape and become a nuisance, the banana passion fruit is an interesting and tasty addition to the garden.

Banana Passion Fruit Ice Cream
1/2 cup passiflora mollissima juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups half and half
1 tsp vanilla

Remove the pulp and seeds from the exterior shell of the passion fruit. In a blender, pulse the banana passion fruit enough to release the juice. Strain out the seeds from the juice, pushing the pulp against the sides of the strainer to extract as much juice as possible but trying not to get seed fragments into the juice.

Mix all ingredients together, and freeze per your ice cream freezer's instructions. For smaller freezers, you may need to cut the recipe in half. (based on Bill Grant’s Passion Fruit Ice Cream, CRFG Recipe Book)

- Benjamin Kuo

Originally published in The Fruit Gardener, May/June 2003

(c)2003 by Benjamin F. Kuo. All rights reserved.