Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pasyonaryang Mabaho (Passiflora foetida)

I've had two encounters with a small, wild passionfruit these past few months. One day, I was in my garden when I encountered an astoundingly beautiful, unmistakably passionate flower (I don't have my own photo, but it looked like this). The fruit was unripe (green) and covered in some kind of weird cocoon of hair.

Our helper told me that the ripe fruit was edible and tasted good. So I chanced upon an orange one (not easy, as birds come at it religiously), ate it, and found the meat to be extremely paltry. Kind of like, 100 times less than a regular passionfruit's. I rolled it around in my mouth and spat it, concluding that yes, it was a relative, tasted good, and was not poisonous.

In a vacant lot in Ilocos, I found it again. I began eating it while waiting for Jimmy to pick up some material at the bus station. Apparently, the whole plant is supposed to smell pretty bad (hence the Tagalog name pasyonaryong mabaho, which means "stinky passionplant", roughly). I didn't touch the rest, so I can't confirm. I'm in the US now, but it is probably one of the first few things I will do when I get home.

The plant originated in South America, but is already, of course, common in the Pacific region. It's used medicinally for wound healing in the Philippines, and for help in itchiness in other Malay regions. More intense use of teas are found around the world. It is sometimes used to make juice. The immature fruit is reported to be slightly poisonous.

Another interesting thing about this is that it is thought of as a protocarnivorous plant. That means that it is slightly carnivorous (technically, it means that it is on its way to being so, which is debatable). It is omnivorous, I suppose. There are sticky excretions on its bracts or "hairs" that form the aforementioned "cocoon". In short, things can play out like a horror movie for little insects that come into contact with the pasyonaryong mabaho. They are digested by enzymes on the surface before being absorbed by the plant.

The sticky bracts also serve as protection, as the flowers and fruit are less damaged because of their presence. This makes me admire the development of this mechanism. Wouldn't it be great if burglar alarm systems could also chop, season and sear offenders for us?