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Morton, J. 1987. Sweet Calabash. p. 334–335. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.

Sweet Calabash

Passiflora maliformis L.

Of minor status among the cultivated species of Passiflora, the sweet calabash, P. maliformis L., has been called water lemon (Bermuda); ceibey cimarron (Cuba), callebassie (Haiti), calabacito de Indio (Dominican Republic); sweet cup, conch apple, conch nut (Jamaica); parcha cimarrona (Puerto Rico); Pomme calabas, liane a agouti (Guadeloupe); pomme-liane de la Guadeloupe (Martinique); culupa, granadilla, curuba or kuruba (Colombia); granadilla de hueso or granadilla de mono (Ecuador); guerito (Cuba).

The sweet calabash
Fig. 93: The sweet calabash (Passiflora maliformis) is light-yellow with a very hard shell. Photographed at the experimental station, Palmira, Colombia, in 1969.


The vine is woody but slender, climbing to 33 ft (10 m) or more by means of tendrils in the leaf axils, and draping trees, walls and small buildings. The evergreen leaves are ovate-cordate, or ovate-oblong, with a short, recurved point at the apex; fairly thin, light-green; 2 3/8 to 6 in (6-15 cm) long, with 2 round, flat glands at about the middle of the petiole. The peduncle bears 3 thin, ovate, pointed bracts, to 2 in (5 cm) long which enclose the unopened bud and form an ivory-hued background for the opened flower, which is fragrant, 2 to 2 3/8 in (5-6 cm) wide, with keeled, green, maroon-dotted sepals and 5 small petals, greenish-white, dotted with red or purple. The corona is 3-ranked and variegated white, purple and blue.

The fruit is oblate to nearly round-oval, the specific name implying "apple-shaped", being derived from Malus, the apple genus. It is 1 3/4 to 2 in (4.5-5 cm) long, 1 3/8 to 1 1/2 in (3.5-4 cm) wide. The rind is yellow to brownish when fully ripe, thin; varies from rather flexible and leathery to hard and brittle. The pulp is grayish or pale orange-yellow, juicy, sweet or subacid and pleasingly aromatic, containing many black, flat, ovate, pitted seeds.

Origin and Distribution

This species is native and common in the wild in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and from Saba to Barbados and Trinidad; also Venezuela, Colombia and northern Ecuador. It is cultivated in Jamaica, Brazil and Ecuador for its fruits, and in Hawaii as an ornamental in private gardens and in experimental stations for use in breeding work. The United States Department of Agriculture received seeds from Trinidad in 1909 (P.I. No. 26269); seeds of 4 varieties from Colombia in September 1914 (P.I. Nos. 39223-226); and more seeds from Colombia in November 1914 (P.I. No. 39383). However, the species has not been successful in Florida or California.


The vine grows and fruits at cool altitudes–up to 5,500 ft (1,700 m)–in South America; in Jamaica, between 500 and 1,200 ft (152-366 m). Lefroy saw it in Bermuda in 1871 but the climate apparently did not favor survival.


The fruits ripen from September to December in Jamaica.

Pests and Diseases

This species is noted for its resistance to pests and diseases that affect its relatives.

Food Uses

The fruit, whether leathery or hard-shelled, is difficult to open but the seedy pulp is much enjoyed locally. In Jamaica, it is scooped from the shell and served with wine and sugar. The strained juice is excellent for making cold drinks.

Other Uses

Snuff boxes have been made of the shell of the hard type.