By Maegan Beatty
Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis Sims) is an evergreen perennial vine that produces a tropical fruit. The most cultivated type of passion fruit in the United States is the purple passion fruit. The fruit thrives in tropical climates and grows exceptionally well in central and southern Florida.
In April, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) hosted an orchard field day at the Plant Science and Research Education Unit (PSREU) in Citra. Mark Bailey, Extension agent from Marion County, presented an educational overview on production, harvesting and the economic value of the passion fruit.
Passion fruit is grown in a three-to-four-year cycle and is typically harvested in June and July. Since it thrives in tropical climates, it does not respond well to freezes.
“Frost protection is essential for the passion fruit crop,” Bailey said.
This is less of an issue within the central and southern Florida regions, but in North Florida, farmers are more prone to severe freezes during the winter season. The cold temperature can kill a mature plant completely. It is recommended to cover the base of the plant to ensure it survives.
Passion fruit should be grown in well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. The plant can accept compost and prefers light, frequent irrigation. It is recommended to have 6 to 10 feet in between plants, and farmers can plant anywhere from 300 to 500 per acre. Bailey mentions that excess nitrogen encourages vegetative growth, which will discourage flowering. Viruses are the biggest threat to the crop.
“Viruses act as the No. 1 threat in South Florida, but we haven’t seen any in our area yet luckily,” Bailey said.
STORAGE AND USES
Passion fruit are usually harvested when they are ripe and maintain their good condition at ambient temperatures when the humidity is above 85%. It is recommended to store the fruit in the refrigerator where humidity is present. They are a very durable crop and can be eaten raw.
The juice from passion fruit serves as a great source of Vitamin A and C. The fruit can be used as a flavoring tool in drinks, dishes and cakes. It can also be used to make jellies. The seeds with their juice sacs are often used in fruit salads.
Passion fruit is mostly imported into the United States and sold as juice, concentrates or as raw fruit. The fruit itself is of high value ranging from $1.00 to $2.50 per fruit. It is typically sold as a dozen or by weight.
There are a few selling options that producers can look into:
- Directly to customers – By count or by weight.
- Wholesale – Domestically or internationally
- Value-added products – Brewing, juices, candies, ice cream, etc.
- Shipping to customers – By count or by weight
The passion fruit industry is rising in popularity as a high value crop. However, with no widely established market, it can be a risky industry to get involved with as it is such a high cost to establish. If any Florida farmers are interested in starting a passion fruit operation, they can utilize the cost breakdown provided by UF/IFAS.