The genus Gynura is a subgroup of the Asteraceae family of plants, which also includes popular flowering plants such as sunflowers and asters, and familiar edible plants such as lettuces and artichokes. There are several species included in the genus, with one of the best-known being the purple passion plant, Gynura aurantiaca. This species is a flowering perennial vine that is often grown as a decorative potted plant. Many other species of the genus Gynura are wholesome, edible vegetables that are somewhat similar to spinach. The genus is native to Asia, where many of the edible species are grown for food.
Purple passion plants, which may also be called velvet plants, royal velvets, or purple velvets, get their various names from their purple leaves that are covered in tiny hairs, giving them a fuzzy, velvety feel. They are popular as indoor potted plants or as outdoor garden plants because of this strikingly colored foliage, and also because they are relatively easy to grow. The plants also have small, orange colored flowers that bloom in summer, but these flowers emit an unpleasant odor. Many growers choose to prune the flowers off the plant before they fully bud because of their smell.
The purple passion plant may be cultivated indoors or outdoors and is usually propagated from cuttings, although it may also be propagated from seed if viable seeds are available. If the plant is grown outdoors, its vines will spread readily, so it is often planted as a ground cover or confined to pots to restrict the growth of the vines. Whether grown as a houseplant or a garden plant, a purple passion plant requires slightly moist soil and plenty of light to thrive, with good lighting intensifying the purple color of the leaves. Older vine growths can be pruned back to give the plant a fuller, healthier appearance. The plant also tends to attract pests, such as spider mites or aphids, so it should be regularly checked for parasites.
Another species of the genus Gynura, Gynura crepioides, is an edible vegetable that is similar in appearance to spinach, hence its common name, Okinawan spinach. The species Gynura bicolor, which is also edible, may also be referred to by this name. Leaves from both types of plant are edible, and have a unique, slightly tangy or bitter taste. The leaves may be served raw in salads or cooked, often in a stir fry or saute.