Put what in your pipe?

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Blooming on the vine pergola is Aristolochia maxima, the Florida Dutchman’s pipe, which has the


Aristolochia maxima shows
hairs that trap flies.

shape of an old-fashioned meerschaum pipe.  It is not native to Florida – it grows from Mexico through Central America and into Venezuela -- but has naturalized here. The clusters of flowers on this woody vine, or liana, are brownish, without the outrageous liver color and really bizarre shape of the larger flowered species, such as Aristolochia gigantea. After taking pictures of the pipes, I was trying to find a characteristic leaf and noticed a fairly young leaf with three caterpillars of the Polydamas Swallowtail.  Rich Cech (who was at Butterfly Days recently) and Guy Tudor describe the Polydamas in their book Butterflies of the East Coast, An Observer’s Guide, as a tropical butterfly living at the edge of its range in Florida. The black caterpillars with orange tubercles feed in clusters when young, although I’m not sure three qualify as a cluster.  Aristolochia maxima is pollinated by flies. Mary Collins, senior horticulturist, says the tiny flies are drawn to the pipe, fly inside and then cannot get back out because of the downward facing hairs.

Polydamas swallowtail

 The calico flower, Aristolochia littoralis, has become a pest plant in some areas of Florida, and was listed in Category II in 2007 by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. (This means it has increased in abundance but not yet altered plant communities to the extent shown by such plants as melaleuca and Old World climbing fern.)

To grow Aristolochia maxima, you’ll need a strong support, such as a heavy trellis where it can find full sun to partial shade.  Vigorous vines can be pruned back to their main stem and branches after flowering, and fertilized in February and October.  Aristolochia maxima has been recorded blooming nearly year-round in the garden.