The Cottage Gardener 4(88): 152-153 (June 6, 1850)

Passion-flowers
D. Beaton

I take blame to myself for not having sooner replied to Mr. Errington's request about the Passion-flower (see vol. iii., page 343). After the appearance of the older Tacsonia, about twenty years since, I had a strong pull at these passion-flowers, with a view to effect a cross between any of them and the Tacsonia, but I did not succeed. However, I gained some insight into their economy, which enables me to answer Mr. Ellington. Botanists, as far as I am aware of, have not put much stress on the arrangement of the seed organs in these flowers, which stand alone in the division of plants to which they belong— in the disposition of their stamens and pistils—the Irids, or Ixia tribe, being the only parallel to them in the other grand division of the vegetable kingdom; and it will be remembered that I mentioned last year, that the chief feature by which Irids were distinguished from neighbouring families was the ungallant position of the stamens standing up with their backs turned to the fairer sex—the pistils; and in my hurry I then fell into a mistake, by saying that the Irids alone, among flowers, were so unmanfully disposed. But here, among all the passion-flowers I examined, the same phenomena occurs, and even more markedly than in the irids; for in the passion-flower both sexes "look asklent and unco skeigh," or, in plain words, the males not only turn their backs on the virgins, but the latter pay them in their own coin by looking in a different direction; and if all this is not a phenomenon, what shall we call it? Those who have little acquaintance with the inside arrangement of these flowers will, perhaps, understand it better from the following description. In the centre of a Passion-flower a column is set up without a pedestal, and afterwards a pair of pedestals, one above the other, are added, and placed against the bottom of the column. From the upper pedestal five full grown men generally, but sometimes only four of them, stand up all round the column with their backs turned towards it; and, of course, their faces are looking to different points of the compass. These five men are the stamens, whose height, together with the length of the column, differ in different kinds of passion-flowers. In the Purple-fruited one, referred to by Mr. Errington, the height of the men exceeds that of the column by head and neck; and the apex or top of the column stands in a line with the top of their shoulder-blades. On this apex is placed the berry or seed vessel, in the shape of an egg, and on the top of which stand three nymphs—the pistils. When the flower opens upwards these ladies look up straight to the zenith; but when the flowers are pendulous, as is more generally the case, they look towards the earth. In either position the two parties stand head to toes, that is, the heads of the stamens reach to where the pistils are, attached to the seed vessel, and by their fixed position it is impossible for either to see each other. Now, "if all were known," it would very probably be found, that the old story about the Spanish monks having mistaken this arrangement for emblems of the crucifixion was only a mere moonshine; and that the more probable reason the holy fathers had for naming this a passion-flower, seeing the attitudes of the parts representing the sexes so very unpassion-like, and on that account more in accordance with their own better sense in such matters. If that was really the case, and I see no reason to doubt it, the foolishness of worldly wisdom could hardy be better exemplified; for in the very next stage of the Passion-flower the tables are turned—prudish coquetry gives way to a softer passion. The virgins bow themselves round in the direction of the sentinels, "to meet them half way," and the latter in their turn lean back their heads for the embrace. No wonder, therefore, that honest men like the Spanish monks, and our friend from Cheshire, should be deceived and puzzled by "such fancies." However, we must give Mr. Errington credit for wishing to clear away all impediments to such mutual understanding.

Beaton Bibliography