The strange world of the passion vine

Pottering is the great temptation of work-from-homers and I’ve recently found a far, far too engrossing place in which to potter. A froth of green passionfruit vine has totally engulfed one of the fences at our house and I can’t stop poking my nose in it.

A while back I wrote in Metro about being hunt-curious – interested in self-sufficiency with food, but lacking a green thumb. Since murderising a family of goats in the name of journalism, though, I find I’ve developed a taste for gardening. I’m supposed to be doing work or chasing editors, but instead I make a cup of tea, wander out and – oh? – what’s going on in the passion vine today…?

It’s a universe in itself, engrossing and ever-changing – with a kind of sci-fi thing going on. Its flowers look like alien growths – they swell slowly into fruit pods that resemble something Sigourney Weaver would take to with a flame-thrower – while thin green tendrils probe everywhere, curling tightly round anything they touch, which is often each other. I’ve started tapping them on one side to see how they react: the next day when you go out the tendril has bent around, hoping to grab whatever it’s bumped into.

The best part is the insect life. We have pretentions around organic gardening, so the idea is that a healthy insect ecology sort of keeps itself in balance. If you don’t kill off the whole bunch of them, you don’t get empty niches that plagues of one particular species can exploit. That’s the idea anyway. So with this in mind I started keeping track of what was living in the passion vine, taking photos, and working out who was eating who (it’s very About Town in there).

So first up are the fluffy bums (above). Getting back to the sci-fi theme, these are like the alien canon fodder in the movie Passion Vine 2. Individually, they’re not too much trouble for the hero, but if they breed too much and get out of control, you’re in trouble. Fluffy bums are sap-suckers, so they drain the goodness out of your vine and make the fruit less delicious (and getting a bumper crop of dee-licious purple passionfruit is the point of having a passion vine). What’s worse is the fluffy bum is only the adolescent stage of the insect’s life cycle (the chest-burster, if you will). In the next stage they turn into passion vine hoppers – and anything named after a plant you’re trying to cultivate is bad news.

I was getting all worried about the hoppers, when all in one morning we had a mass hatch-out of ladybirds – the cavalry arrived! I think these are orange-spotted ladybirds, which are a native species that loves gobbling aphids. Hopefully they eat the fluffies too – though those things ping away on spring-loaded legs if you get close – I hope the ladybirds are quick enough.

If not, these guys definitely are. You sort of think of paper wasps as a pest – until you see them patrol the vine for caterpillars and other insects, grooming over every inch like some kind of sinister government agents.

Also in the enforcement department is this bad-ass looking jumping spider. He moves faster than you can see, then stops perfectly still – blip, blip, blip. It’s like a badly edited film. I like when they jump, because they get their position just right before pouncing. The photo’s out of focus, because he wasn’t sticking round.

Here’s another spider – what he gets up to, I have no idea. And then below him is a stink bug. There are quite a few of these in the vine and they spend a lot of time end to end, mating. Hang on – what does google say about them? Oh right, it seems they’re sap-suckers too, and therefore a pest, though I doubt there are enough to be a problem. I also doubt anything eats them, because if you bump one they spray a stinking chemical on you, skunk-styles.

After that we have a couple of flies – on the left, some kind of grotty drone fly, and on the right a quite pretty, iridescent fruit fly (I think) – and after that, one of the most attractive residents of the passion vine universe, a steely blue ladybird.

So how’s that for a little eco-system? And it’s all just in one plant. No wonder I get so little work done. Next, I’m hoping we get a few praying mantids to help keep the sap-suckers under control – and of course, I’m hanging out for that bumper crop of passionfruit. Things are looking good.

PS – I’m really pleased with the macro lens on my camera. It’s just a little point and shoot, but handles things that are very close very well. A Panasonic Lumix TZ, for those who care.

PPS – any hints on handling passion vine hoppers? Organics in general? Let me know – I’m a total beginner on this

1 comment

  1. My passionfruit has those annoying fluffy bums, once a week in the evening I spray with Wally’s Neem Oil, I also use the garden hose and blast the underside of the leaves a few nights after spraying.

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