Ruskin's Botanical Drawings

John Ruskin, Botanical Study, RF1166 © Ruskin Foundation

Ruskin, John (1819-1900)

Flower Study – Section of Passiflora flower
6 X 4 1/2 in.
Ink and Pencil

RF 1166


This sketch shows a section through a flower of a Passiflora species (Passion Flower family – Passifloraceae), possibly the Blue Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea), Passion Fruit (P. edulis) or a hybrid. A delightful touch is the side sketch and note, likening the lower parts of the flower section to “two birds”.

The Passifloras or Passion Flowers/Fruit (c. 500 species) are native to the tropical and warm-temperate Americas, although a few species occur in Asia and Australia. They are mainly climbers, woody at the base, and cling to supports such as forest trees by means of spiral tendrils. Pollination is by insects, especially butterflies, and humming birds. Blue Passion Flower (P. caerulea) is the hardiest and is widely grown as a garden plant in Britain, although other species may be grown in heated glasshouses. Passion flowers were very popular as garden and glasshouse plants in nineteenth century Britain and many hybrids were produced, usually involving the Wing-stemmed Passion Flower (P. alata) and P. caerulea.

The name, ‘Passion Flower’ refers to the passion of Christ and, it is said, was first coined by Spanish Missionaries who associated the different parts of the flower and plant with symbols of the crucifixion: lance, whips, apostles, crown of thorns, hammer and nails.

The flowers, which last for only a day, have a complex structure, with rings of bracts at the base and then, moving upwards: a complex arrangement of petals and sepals which, in section at their bases, resemble little birds; a columnar androgynophore, bearing the sexual structures; - a ring of stamens, with articulated anthers (male) and a swollen ovary, topped by three long styles with bulbous stigmas (female). Most of these structures are shown in Ruskin’s drawing, although the internal details of the ovary are not shown and the female sex organs, the styles and stigmas, have been omitted. The latter may be missing because the flower is from a sterile hybrid, or because it is from a species with separate male and female flowers (unusual), or because Ruskin omitted them for prudish reasons. Also, they may simply have withered and fallen off, although this seems unlikely as no traces of the bases are shown.

This entry was researched and written by Professor David Ingram.