Aristolochia californica
Common Name: birthwort 
Type: Vine
Family: Aristolochiaceae
Native Range: California
Zone: 8 to 10
Height: 12.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Bloom Time: March to April
Bloom Description: Pale green with burgundy veins
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Butterflies

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 8-10 where it is easily grown in moderately fertile, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Avoid dry soils. This vine appreciates some part shade in hot inland areas. Prune if needed in late winter to early spring. Will not survive outdoor temperatures that dip below 30 degrees F. Needs some support if upright growth is desired. Propagate by cuttings. Vine stems may root where they touch the soil thus creating new plants which may be dug up and moved.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Aristolochia californica, commonly called California Dutchman’s pipe, is a rhizomatous, deciduous, fast growing, twining vine of the birthwort family that typically grows to 12-15’ long on dull brown, rope-like stems clad with fuzzy, pale-green, heart-shaped leaves (to 3-6” long). It is most noted for producing unusual pipe-shaped flowers (each to 1.5” long) which bloom in late winter to early spring. Each flower is pale green with long burgundy veins. Flowers are apetalous (no petals), but the calyx of each flower assumes the shape of a curved Dutchman’s smoking pipe, hence the common name. Each flower is formed by fused sepals and dangles on its own naked stem. Flowers are pollinated by certain tiny insects (fungus gnats may prove to be the effective pollinators) that are lured into the calyx by the potent but foul smell of the flower where they become temporarily trapped, covered with pollen and then released to pollinate other flowers. Each pollinated flower is followed by a 6-winged dehiscent seed capsule which opens basipetally when ripe to release its seed for distribution by wind.

This vine is native to northern and central California where it is most often found in woodlands, mountain foothills and streambanks usually below 1500’ in elevation.

Aristolochia is the sole host for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. Eggs laid on plant leaves hatch, and the plant leaves become the sole food for the emerging larvae (showy black caterpillars with red spotting). Leaves contain poisons which make not only the caterpillars but also the subsequent butterflies poisonous to predators.

Genus name comes from the Greek words aristos meaning best and locheia meaning childbirth or delivery in reference to the fact that plants of some species within this genus (1) have a flower structure which more closely resembles a human fetus in the womb than a pipe, and (2) served in the past as the source of ancient plant preparations used for treatment of pain and infections incident to childbirth.

Specific epithet is in obvious reference to this species being native to the State of California.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Root rot, leaf spot and southern blight may occur. Can be an aggressive spreader in optimum growing conditions.

Garden Uses

Best grown in areas where the unique flowers can be easily observed (along a path, near a patio). Where winter hardy, it needs a trellis, arbor or other structure on which to grow unless it is being used as a scrambling ground cover. Allow it to weave through shrubs or small trees. Good screening vine for a porch.