The Passion Flower Vine

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The demise of a much-loved plant has Ellen Greenblatt contemplating the nature of loss and change.

My passion flower vine dropped dead about two years ago. After several years of steady growth, albeit with only a puny production of flowers, it died. I don’t mean it withered over a few weeks — one day it looked lush, and the next morning it had collapsed onto the sidewalk.

I looked online, though the sad-looking vine was clearly beyond resuscitation. Someone mentioned vine weevil, others named over watering or slugs as possible culprits. Finally, it did not matter. What had seemed like a sturdy and permanent presence had disappeared.

I had welcomed every flower this vine produced, marveled over how the corona of filaments radiating out beneath the stamens and pistils in the center of the flower created what looked to me like a stage for ballerinas. During my Google postmortem search, I learned that missionaries see the five stamens as the wounds of Jesus and the corona as the crown of thorns. I like my ballerina interpretation better.

Maybe I am projecting onto the passion flower my sadness about the seemingly sudden disappearance of things I have loved and taken for granted over the years, small losses like a friend moving, larger ones like the realization that, not only is my youth beyond reclamation, even my children are getting pretty old. In her poem “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop ironically asserts, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” But she concedes at the end that losing is, of course, a “disaster.”


When I saw recently that some tentative tendrils of the passion vine had sprouted, thanks, no doubt, to this past winter’s rains, I was euphoric. There is hope! So even if I and my children and other people’s children are past their youth, I can look at a group of nursery school kids holding hands, chirping to each other on their way to the park, and I know it’s not about one loss — it’s about the whole pageant.

With a Perspective, this is Ellen Greenblatt.

Ellen Greenblatt is a Bay Area educator.