PLANT OF THE WEEK

Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology Department

PURPLE PASSION PLANT

 Common names:  Purple Passion Plant, Purple Passion Vine, Velvet plant, Purple Velvet Plant, Royal Velvet Plant.

Scientific  nameGynura ‘Purple Passion’

Explanation of scientific name:       

Gynura – from the Greek “gyne” (female) and “oura” (a tail) in reference to the tail that extends from the female portion of the flower known as the stigma. 

The Purple Passion Plant does not have a typical binomial scientific name because it is a hybrid cultivar between two species. Its parents are most likely Gynura aurantiaca (native to Java) and Gynura procumbens, also known as Gynura sarmentosa, (native to Malaya and the Philippine Islands). The cultivar name, ‘Purple Passion,’ reflects the striking purple color of the foliage and stems of the plant. This hybrid apparently inherited its purple, hairy leaves from its aurantiaca parent and its vining habit of growth from its procumbens parent. Its unusual appearance and ease of culture has resulted in its becoming a popular houseplant. As a member of the large Composite or Sunflower family of plants (Asteraceae), the Purple Passion Plant’s close relatives include, besides sunflowers, chrysanthemums, asters, marigolds, and even lettuce. How do plants that look so different get classified as members of the same taxonomic family? The answer is their basic floral structure, a composite of many small flowers clustered into a head.

The purple appearance of this plant is actually the result of the purple pigment in the hairs that are found on the leaves and the stems. The leaves and stems themselves are actually more of a green color. Young leaves and stems, that have not fully expanded, have their purple hairs very close together. This makes them appear bright purple. As these areas enlarge the leaves and stems do not add more hairs, and those already in place are farther apart. Therefore older leaves and stems are not as purple. Pruning, which encourages more new shoots to develop, results in a plant that is considerably more purple than an unpruned specimen.  

The flowers of the Purple Passion Plant are orange in color and produced in terminal clusters. They are interesting, but not particularly showy. Many people who grow this plant prune the flower buds off before they open, and with good reason. When open, they emit an objectionable odor that can be unpleasant if the plant is growing in the confines of a home.

The growing requirements for Purple Passion Plants can be met by most home gardeners. Bright light, but not full sun, will produce the best purple color. A typical potting soil and houseplant fertilizer will meet their other needs. The plants look best in hanging baskets, so the trailing vines have room to grow. They propagate readily from cuttings, and this is important because the plants lose their beauty with age, as they accumulate older leaves and stems with less vigor and duller colors. Once a new vigorous plant is established, the old one can move to the compost pile.