Aristolochia macrophylla

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Name: Aristolochia macrophylla Lamark

Family: Aristolochiaceae, The Dutchman’s Pipe Family

Common Names: Dutchman’s Pipe, Pipevine (1)

Etymology: Aristolochia comes from the Greek aristos meaning “best” or, originally, “most fitting” and lochia which means “delivery.”  This is due to its original use to expel the placenta after childbirth.  Macrophylla is also from Greek, where macros means “long, large” and phylo meaning “leaf”  (4, 7, 8).

Botanical synonyms: Aristolochia durior Hill, Aristolochia sipho L’Heritier and Isotrema macrophyllum (Lam.) C.F. Reed (1, 3, 4, 5).

Quick Notable Features (1, 3, 4):

  • Long twining, woody vine
  • Leaves cordate, wider than 9 cm
  • Flower yellow-brown to brown-purple, longer than 3 cm.

Plant Height:
Typically 5-10 m, but can grow to be up to 20 m long (9).

Subspecies/varieties recognized: None found so far.

Most Likely Confused with: Menispermum canadaense, Sicyos angulatus, Echinocystis lobata, Dioscorea villosa, and Hedera helix as well as non-climbing species in the genus Aristolochia.

Habitat Preference: Rich mountain woods, mesic woodlands, banks of streams (1, 6, 7).

Geographic Distribution in Michigan: Escaped from cultivation in Washtenaw County (3).

Known Elevational Distribution: 50-1300 m (4).

Complete Geographic Distribution: This species is native to the eastern United States and is found in at least a few counties in every state along the eastern seaboard as well as a few counties in PA, MI, KY, and TN as well as southern Ontario (5,6).

Vegetative Plant Description: Woody liana up to 20 m in length, twining around other plants and structures with the apex of its stem.  Young stems are ribbed and glabrous.  Leaf petioles are 4-6 cm long.  The leaf is 7 to 34 cm long and 10 to 35 cm wide, with a cordate base and sinus depth of 1-4.5 cm.  The leaf surface is glabrous to slightly puberulent.  There are three major veins radiating from the base of the leaf, with smaller veins branching off of them toward the margin (1, 3, 4).

Climbing Mechanism:  Apical stem twiner (6).

aris_macro_bioimagesFlower Description: The axillary flowers have a three-lobed irregular calyx up to 3cm wide. They are green to purple, sometimes yellow or brown and with a u-shaped or pipe-shaped tube at least 4cm long; its constricted tube and odd shape resembling a smoking pipe. There is no corolla. Six stamens are adnate to the ovary and the ovary is mostly to completely inferior. The flower emits the smell of rotting meat to attract pollinators (presumably carrion-eating flies), although it is not as pungent as others in the same family (6, 7, 9, 15).

Flowering Time: Late May to early June (1), site unspecified.

Pollinator: The strong, pungent odor attracts flies, probably carrion flies, and the modified perianth and hairs inside the floral tube trap the insect; soon the hairs wither and release the fly, covered in pollen (10).

Fruit Type and Description: Fruit a 6-angled cylindrical-ovoid septicidal capsule opening from the base.  It is 5.5-8 cm long and 2.5 cm in diameter.  It is firm and the valves separate with age, with about 90 seeds per capsule (6, 7, 10, 11).

seeds_will_cookSeed Description:  Seeds are flat and triangular, 1cm by 1 cm (1, 4). Facultative dormancy has been reported (17).

Dispersal Syndrome: The flat aerodynamic seeds are wind dispersed short distances, as they are shaken out one by one from the downward hanging, dehiscent “parachute-like capsules” (10).  The flattened seeds are easily air-borne (pers. obs. RJB) and other seeds of species in the genus are clearly wind dispersed, bearing a thin marginal wing.

Distinguished byA. macrophylla is a twining woody vine with flowers larger than 3 cm long, and leaves wider than 8 cm. The fact that it is a vine distinguishes it from the other two Aristolochia species in Michigan, A. clematitis and A. serpentaria, both of which are herbaceous and have smaller leaves and flowers (3).  However, in comparison to the vine species in Michigan with which it might be confused, it is distinguished from Menispermum canadense by the lack of a peltate leaf attachment, which Menispermum has.  It can be distinguished from both members of the Cucurbitatceae, Echinocystis lobata and Sicyos angulatus because it twines with its apex and bears no tendrils.  Unlike Dioscorea villosa, the strong lateral veins in A. macrophylla do not converge on the apex – rather they bifurcate with the branches ending at the margins of the leaf.  A. macrophylla can easily be distinguished from Hedera helix by the apical climbing mechanism (instead of adventitious roots) and the softer, deciduous leaves.

Aris macro USDA Tracey SlottaOther members of the family in Michigan (number species): A. clematitis and A. serpentaria are both in the same genus. Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger) is in the Aristolochiaceae (3).

Ethnobotanical Uses: The Cherokee were rumored to use an infusion of roots topically to treat swelling in the extremities (2).

ARISAristolochiamacrophyllaMAPPhylogenetic Information: Kelly and González (12) present the following discussion:

Aristolochiaceae consist of 4–8 genera and ca. 500 species…the family has been the subject of much recent attention because of suggestions that these basal angiosperms are phylogenetically close to the divergence of monocots from dicots. Aristolochiaceae were traditionally placed in subclass Magnoliidae and thought to be related to woody members of the subclass such as Annonaceae; however, the first morphological cladistic analyses of basal angiosperms supported relationships of the family with other predominately herbaceous magnoliids (Piperales, Nymphaeales, Lactoridaceae) and the monocots. Subsequent phylogenetic studies supported relationships of Aristolochiaceae with a more restricted set of paleoherbs (Lactoridaceae, Piperales, monocots), as well as Magnoliales, Laurales, and Chloranthaceae.

The closest members of the genus to A. macrophylla are A. tomentosa, A californica, and A. serpentaria, all of which are included in the subgenus Isotrema (17).

Interesting Factoids:

  • The Pipevine butterfly (Battus philenor) feeds on A. macrophylla, accumulating aristolochic acid in its body, which makes it unpalatable to birds (4).
  • The aristolochic acid also has effects on humans. Some claim it stimulates white blood cell activity, which gives it remarkable healing powers, but is carcinogenic and damaging to the kidneys. (13). Others claim that it acts against tumors, but is too toxic to be used. It is said that aristolochic acid has anti-cancer properties when used with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It does this by increasing the cellular immunity and the phagocytosis function of the phagocytic cells.
  • Most species of this genus have poisonous roots and stems.

Literature and websites used:

  1. Britton, N. & A. Brown. 1970. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada. New York: Dover Publications.
  2. Moerman, D. 2006. Native American Ethnobotany. University of MIchigan – Dearborn.
  3. Voss, E.G. 1985 Michigan Flora Part II: Dicots.  Ann Arbor, MI: Cranbrook Institute of Science.
  4. Barringer, K. Aristolochia macrophylla in Flora of North America @
  5. USDA PLANTS Profile for Aristolochia macrophylla (pipevine)
  6. Gleason, H. 1963 New Britton & Brown Illustrated Flora.  New York, London: Hafner Publishing Company, Inc., p. 6
  7. Fernald, M.L. 1950 Gray’s Manual of Botany, Fourth Edition.  New York:  American Book Company,  p. 565
  8. Brown, R.W. 1956. Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  9. Missouri Botanical Gardens, Aristolochia macrophylla.
  10. Judd, W.S., C.S. Campbell, E.A. Kellogg, & P.F. Stevens 1999. Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach.  Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc.
  11. Adams, C.A., J.M. Baskin, & C.C. Baskin 2005. Comparative morphology of seeds of four closely related species of Aristolochia subgenus Siphisia (Aristolochiaceae, Piperales). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 148 (4): 433-436.
  12. Kelly, L.M. & C. Favio González 2003. Phylogenetic relationships in Aristolochiaceae. Systematic Botany  28(2): 236–249.
  13. Chevallier. A. 1996. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. London: Dorling Kindersley
  14. Yeung. Him-Che 1985. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas. Los Angeles: Institute of Chinese Medicine.
  15. Gleason, H.A. & A. Cronquist. 1991 Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Bronx, NY: New York Botanical Garden.
  16. Michigan Flora Online. A.A. Reznicek, E.G. Voss, & B.S. Walters. February 2011. University of Michigan. Web.
  17. Bliss et al. 2013. Characterization of the basal angiosperm Aristolochia fimbriata: a potential experimental system for genetic studies. BMC Plant Biology 13:13 (25 pages).

Image Credits (all used with permission):

1) Habit image with leaves copyright Will Cook, image from Buncombe Co., NC.
2, 3) Flowers: both flower images are copyright Steven J. Baskauf
4) Fruit image copyright Will Cook, image from Buncombe Co., NC.
5) Seed image copyright of Tracey Slotta @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
6) Species distribution map, derived from the Michigan Flora Online.

AUTHORS: Brendan Carson, Marko Melymuka, John Bradtke, and Robyn J. Burnham. © Robyn J. Burnham, University of Michigan.