A passion flower is the flower of the Passiflora plant, of which there are about 500 species. Most grow on vines, but some Passiflora species are shrubs. The flower has an elaborate, exotic appearance, and its name refers to the Passion of Jesus Christ, as various elements of the flower are said to represent elements of Jesus' life. Many of these plants also yield a tropical fruit known as passion fruit.
Plants in the Passiflora genus cover a wide geographical range, appearing in North and South America, Asia, and Australia. Africa features many plants in the Passifloraceae family, of which the passion flower plants are a member, although no Passiflora species grow there. Since the Victorian era, when the flower enjoyed significant popularity, many hybrids have been created.
While there are many different types of these flower, ranging in color from pinks, purples, and reds to white and yellow shades, most have some notable elements in common. There are almost always ten sepals and petals at the base of the flower, a corona of 72 hairlike filaments above the petals, and stigma and anthers, the sexual organs of the flower, protruding from the center. The flower has evolved to attract pollinators, in most cases bees, but sometimes hummingbirds or wasps. A few species are self-pollinating.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish missionaries in the Americas discovered the passion flower and developed the symbolism that gives the flower its name. The ten sepals and petals are said to represent ten of the apostles, not counting Doubting Thomas or Judas, who betrayed Christ. The corona represents Jesus' crown of thorns, the three stigma mirror the number of nails used in the crucifixion, and the five anthers represent the number of His wounds.
Since before the arrival of Europeans, Passiflora has been an important medicinal plant to the Native Americans. A tea made from the plant is used to treat insomnia and epilepsy and to alleviate pain. The flower, like the passion fruit, can also be eaten raw or used in recipes. Today, the passion flower has been adopted as a signifier for homosexual youths in Japan, where it is called the "clock-faced flower".