Monday, 4 July 2011

Passiflora foetida

During my many field trips especially to areas which were formerly inhabited by villagers, I would often be on a look-out for the ‘lost’ plants of Singapore. These plants are ‘lost’ in the sense that they were either once common either as a native or cultivated plant but for some reason or other such as rapid development and urbanisation gone missing, extinct or have become endangered. Many of these plants cannot be found in our nursery trade, but most of which can be identified through various resources. Some of these plants have been mentioned and included in previous posts and I will continue to post updates every time I come across something ‘new’.

On Saturday, I was rewarded with another ‘new’ find. The ‘lost’ plant I had found was the Passiflora foetida (common names include Love-in-a-Mist, Stinking Passionflower or wild water lemon). This species was sighted before on the mainland by several people but the one I found was on Lazarus Island. The flowers of this species is very atypically Passiflora-like”, with the exception that they are much smaller (size of a 50 cent coin and somewhat waxy). However the main distinguishing factor is the fruit which is no more than 2 to 3cm in diameter is encased with leafy sepals. When ripe, the fruit turns yellow and the seeds are small and black and embedded in a juicy pulp.

The plant is allegedly protocarnivorous as the leafy sepals which encase the fruit are known to produce sticky, dew-like secretions containing digestive enzymes which help to trap insects. Whether it gains nourishment from its prey is uncertain.

It is called a Stinking Passionflower because the leaves produce an unpleasant odour when crushed. When ripe, the fruit is eaten as it is while the young leaves and plant tips are often used in tea or as medicine to relieve sleeping problems.

This species which is indigenous to the Amazon probably found its way to Singapore through cultivation as the fruit and leaves are edible. Whilst its status today is that of a weed, it is reportedly a useful weed as it is sometimes used as a ground cover at plantations. It also has an important ecological role as the young leaves and shoots are an important food source for Leopard Lacewings (Cethosa cyane) and Tawny Coaster (Acrarea terpiscore).

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