Most of the cultivated Passiflora species are woody, perennial climbers. South America is the true home of 95 % of all granadillas (also called passion-fruits or Maracuja), the remainder coming from Asia, Australia and North America. Africa, which is so often associated with the purple granadilla, Passiflora edulis, and other species, has no indigenous species.

In their natural habitat granadillas make use of tendrils to reach the top of trees or small dense shrubs. Although they originated in the tropics, many species are remarkably tolerant of subtropical and even temperate climates.

The edible and aromatic fruit of several species are well known varying from the size of a pea to that of a small marrow. Some of these fruits as well as their flowers are often ornamental. Most people know Passiflora edulis for its purple fruit, but it also has a yellow fruiting form, namely P. edulis forma flavicarpa. Between 1912 and 1914 some yellow fruit purchased at Covent Garden Fruit Market in London were sent to the Guemes Agricultural Experimental Station in Argentina, and from there to the USA Department of Agriculture in 1915. This department then distributed seeds to Australia and New Zealand. It was believed by some that this yellow form was a chance mutant that occurred regularly in Australia, but it is now known to occur naturally in its native Brazil. In about 1943 it was discovered that the yellow granadilla was resistant to certain soil-borne pests and diseases. New strains were raised that were even more resistant to nematodes and fusarium wilt than the yellow type. As the purple granadilla fruit is preferred, grafting the purple type onto yellow type rootstock was evaluated. This proved very successful and is still used today.

In South Africa the granadilla is cultivated commercially largely for processing but the best quality fruit are sold on the fresh fruit market. Granadilla or passion-fruit juice has become popular because of its strong, unique and appealing flavour which lends itself to a wide variety of uses. It is a popular constituent of cool drinks, cakes, icing, ice cream and yoghurt.

The ARC-TSC Passiflora collection consi​sts of 41 Passiflora species. In an attempt to launch the breeding programme, 26 hybrids which will be used as breeding parents were selected from a hybrid population of 1710 plants.

Leaflet on growing Granadillas

  E.A. de Villiers & Connie Fraser

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