California Dutchman’s Pipe


California Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia californica) May 2011

A small start for a large vine. This photo was taken shortly after it was planted in March of 2011. It may be small now but it’ll grow, as you’ll see. They say “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps”. Not exactly my experience, but it sure has grown a lot in the last 10 years. I’m going to show you photos for each year so you can see how it’s grown over that time.

This fascinating deciduous vine is endemic (limited) to northern California, from the upper Sacramento Valley to the Coast Range to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada up to 2300′ elevation. It’s found mainly in sunny riparian areas (along streams, etc.), but also in dry shade under oak trees. It will grow up to 20 feet or more and has purple-striped curving pipe-shaped flowers (the classic Dutchman’s Pipe) which give rise to winged capsular green fruits. It blooms from late February into May, with the flowers followed by lush green heart shaped leaves. The blooms are also the sole food source for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Buttus philenor).

The generic name Aristolochia comes from the Greek: aristos meaning “best” and lochias meaning “childbirth”. The specific name, Californica, means it’s from California, as you might guess. One of its early common names is “birthwort” (wort means herb) because it’s supposedly shaped like a womb and was traditionally used to treat pain and infections in childbirth. It’s in a class of plants knows as Paleoherbs, a very early precursor of the Angiosperms (flowering plants) from the Cretaceous period.

June 2011

This photo is actually of the Dwarf Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum “Peve Minaret”) but you can still see the vine in back of it.

March 2013

It’s grown a lot in such a short time. You can see the heart shaped leaves in this photo quite well. It’s easier to see against our new bamboo fencing.

March 2014

The pipe shaped flowers are visible in this one. I’d say it’s doing more than just creeping at this point.

January 2014

This is what it looks like as it is just beginning to grow. It starts out early in the year before most other plants.

February 2015

See how much it’s developed in just a month, tho this is taken a year later than the last photo.

March 2016

The flowers supposedly have an unpleasant odor which is attractive to tiny carrion-feeding insects, tho I’ve never smelled it. The insects crawl into the convoluted flowers and get trapped and disoriented, picking up pollen as they wander around. The plant is not insectivorous as initially thought and most escape. Fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae) are thought to be the most effective pollinators. It has been suggested that it is “pollinated by deceit” because it tricks the insects into pollinating it.

May 2017

The flowers are still on the vine but the foliage is slowly taking over. Is it leaping now?

April 2018

Not as much growth this year. The Swamp Cypress is shading it some now.

July 2019

Lush growth. It’s trying to take one the Cypress here. I’ve been taking it off but I may let it grow, as you’ll see next.

May 2020

I’ve let it take over our native Wild Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). It was too much so I cut off the whole branch, vine and all so it wouldn’t fall over and break it. But it did look sort of cool….

April 2021

A current shot from this month. It’s shaded a lot now but still blooming and growing well. There’s more to see…

April 2021

A step back thru the tree shows how much bigger it’s gotten. I’m slowly training it to go down the fence.

April 2021

It’s definitely leaping now. It actually grow further down the fence but is so sparse yet I just stopped here. It’s supposed to get 20 feet long and it may be close to that now. I’m hoping it will cover the whole fence.

Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum) May 2011

This is another cool plant in the Aristolochiaceae family. It’s our native Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum). This photo was taken shortly after it was planted in May of 2010. It’s interplanted with another native, the bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), and the two have spread to cover quite a large area under the rhodies, yews, ferns and other plants growing around them. The roots have medicinal uses but I’ve never tried to harvest them because I don’t want to disturb the plant and risk harming it. Besides it looks so amazing just as it is.

Wild Ginger Flowers

The flowers of this ginger are hard to see as they’re hiding under the leaves. It’s worth hunting for them tho. They’re as interesting as the Pipe Vine but very different.

I love both of these plants. They’re so unique and bring a sense of the wild into the garden. The fact that they’re such ancient beings appeals to my sense of plant history. It’s amazing to think that there were around for so long before humans ever could have seen them. Gives us a good perspective on how short a time we’ve been here. The plant world pre-dates us by millennia.

Happy Spring!


2 responses to this post.

  1. What a beautiful and interesting critter this vine is!



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