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351

passionflower

OLogy Series
plant
card
351

passionflower

OLogy Series
plant

In the forests of Central and South America grows the vibrant passionflower with deep red flowers and juicy yellow fruit. But its leaves are what really set it apart. Large and pointed, they hold chemicals that form a toxic compound called cyanide. When animals chew the leaves, the cyanide is released, killing the animal. But insects like the caterpillars of the zebra longing butterfly have evolved the ability to eat these toxic leaves.

When the flame butterfly and zebra longwing caterpillars eat passionflower leaves, the toxin:

stays in the caterpillar's body

changes into a non-toxic substance

kills the caterpillar in a few hours

Are you right?

Correct!

The caterpillars are able to "disarm" the plant's chemical bomb so that they do not die. But the cyanide stays in their bodies, making the caterpillars toxic too!

The zebra longwing caterpillar gets its toxicity from the passionflower. To warn predators of its toxicity, this caterpillar has:

a bitter taste

spiky spines

both of these

Are you right?

Correct!

The spines of the zebra longwing caterpillar and its bitter taste warn predators to keep away.

The cyanide poison in passionflower leaves doesn't form until the leaves are eaten.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Different chemicals are held in separate compartments in the leaves' cells. The poison is released when the chemicals come together -- and this happens when leaves are chewed.

Many butterflies can safely drink the nectar of the passionflower.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

The toxins are found only in the leaves. In fact, butterflies pollinate the flower.

By the time a flame caterpillar changes into a butterfly, it loses all the toxins in its body.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Like the longwing butterfly, the flame butterfly is poisonous. These butterflies keep the toxins from the passionflower leaves they ate as caterpillars.

Scientific name: Passiflora vitifolia
Nickname: scarlet flame
Characteristics: deep red flowers; green-yellow fruits; pointed, toxic leaves
Habitat: Tropical forests of Central America and South America
Size: 6-inch long leaves, 6-inch wide flowers,
15-20 foot vines
Cool Fact: The fruit of the passion flower tastes like strawberries.

Image credits: © Shutterstock.