Aristolochia grandiflora: characteristics and growing tips

Today we are going to talk about this magnificent plant, the Aristolochia grandifloraof common name flower of pelican or pipe of the Dutch. It is a plant widely used in gardening in some European countries, but it is not very common in Spain. The plant itself looks like a simple bell (Ipomoea spp.), but its flowers are spectacular. He belongs to his own family, aristolochiaceaeHence, its flowers are so different from other plants.

Read on to find out everything important about this plant and some ideas to place it in a garden.

Features Aristolochia grandifloraAristolochia grandiflora flower profile

As we have said, it is a climbing plant (creeper, if we are guided by this article) very similar to bluebells in all respects: Its leaves are heart-shaped, usually about 20cm in length, but can reach almost half a meter in tropical climates. Climb by rolling up the stems to other plants, since it lacks aerial roots, tendrils or other structures that allow it to anchor itself. If your support allows it, you can climb up to about 10m in height. As for the trunk, it does not seem clear whether it forms it or not. There are species of AristolochiaAs Aristolochia giganteawhich do form a trunk, and others like Aristolochia macrophylla they don’t. In the case of Aristolochia grandifloraapparently the stems never get too woody, but they do lignify a little.

The most impressive thing about this plant are flowerswhich become one of the longest in the worldthanks to its strange shape. Viewed from the front, it has a heart-shaped shape similar to the leaves, also about 20cm wide, but with a hanging ribbon (which makes it one of the longest flowers, up to about 60cm length), yellowish-white in color and covered by red “veins” emerging from a dark circle in its center. Seen from the side, you can see how it really is: it hangs from a long peduncle and begins with a bulbous area that protects the androecium and gynoecium. From there a tube that curves upwards comes down and joins the rest of the flower through the dark-colored center that we saw earlier.

Its flower is like this because of its curious pollination method: it gives off a very strong odor that is unpleasant to humans but attracts many insects, mainly flies and wasps. Flies enter the tubecovered with trichomes (hairs) that allow them to move forward but not turn back and get trapped in the bulbous area for two dayswhere they will feed on nectar. During the first day, if they carried pollen from another flower, they will have deposited it on the stigma of the flower, pollinating it. On the second day, the flower stops smelling and presents pollen, trying to get it to stick to the flies. After about 24 hours, the trichomes fall off and the flower begins to dry, allowing the flies to leave and go to others.

Distribution and habitat of the Aristolochia grandiflora

The natural distribution of this species includes from southern Mexico to Panama, and Jamaica, between 0 and 600m altitude. It has been introduced in other places, such as the southern United States because it is a very good food for the larvae of numerous butterflies. It has also become naturalized in parts of Australia and South Asia.

Its main habitat are tropical forests thick, near ravines and riverswhere you have more access to light. In areas where it has been naturalized, it can grow in forests and other places where it has enough water and means to reach light.

Uses and problems

Its main use is as ornamental plantlooking for its huge flowers, although we will see this later. Here we want to talk about the rest of the uses, since there are quite a bit of misinformation on the internet.

  • Alimentary use: This plant is NOT edible. It is highly toxic for people and livestock, also having compounds carcinogenic (can cause cancer). It can only be used to feed larvae of certain butterflies.
  • Traditional medicine: It seems that in Colombia this plant was used as an anti-inflammatory, disinfectant and to treat snake bites. Today there is no point in using it for that since with real medicine we have plenty of remedies for all these things and there is no reason to expose ourselves to the problems that traditional medicine entails, which is also less effective.
  • Introduce it as food for butterflies: This luckily is only possible in tropical climates. Although it sounds very beautiful, it is a very vigorous climbing plant that will compete with the native flora, being able to cover entire small trees. In addition, the butterflies that have been fed with this plant acquire certain toxicity and a very bad taste, so it can be a problem for the balance of the ecosystem when they stop being predated. In your private garden, of course, you can put it, but do not plant it in the forest where it is not indigenous.

Uses in gardening

Aristolochia macrophylla in a garden

In climates without frost it can be planted outside in the ground for it to climb covering arches (where it looks great) or entire walls (with supports). In those places it will be necessary to bear in mind that many butterflies will lay eggs in them and we will see some caterpillars. It can also be cultivated in frosty climateswhere you can do various things with them.

  • One of the options is to have it potted alwayskeeping her out in spring and summer and keeping it indoors in autumn when temperatures are going to drop below 5ºC.
  • Another option is to have them while it is hot planted in the ground and when the cold approaches, pull them up and put them in a pot.
  • You can also have a couple of years in a pot and when it is a good size put it in the ground to enjoy its flowers in summer and fall, but let it die in winter, perhaps collecting seeds or saving cuttings.
  • If the frosts in your area are weak, maybe you can leave it out, covering it with a huge amount of straw and thermal geotextile mesh. Thus it is possible that it manages to survive, but it will have to sprout from the base. If you are going to do that, I recommend at least making cuttings or layering before, to take advantage of the branches that are going to dry up anyway and have spare parts in case it dies.
  • The best option in these cases is to plant it in the ground but within a large heated greenhouse. This is obviously not possible for most of us.

Therefore this plant is not as sought after as other more resistant aristolochias or with more showy flowers. In the United Kingdom it is usually cultivated Aristolochia giganteaa plant with reddish flowers with much more surface area. This is because it blooms more and its flowers are more showy, in addition to being easier to protect when forming a trunk. I have seen that species in nurseries in Spain identified as Aristolochia grandifloraand they are very different.

A much more recommended species for climates with strong frosts es Aristolochia macrophyllawhich comes from the eastern United States, reaching Canada. This species does not need any type of protection in winter and is very good covering arches and porches. Its only problem is that its flowers are tiny, between 2 and 5cm, but with the curious shape typical of the genus.

Caring for the Aristolochia grandiflora

Aristolochia in a pot

  • Irrigation: In summer you need to have the substrate always humid, but in winter while it is not growing, it is better to water only when we see that the surface begins to dry, especially if we have it indoors.
  • Substratum: It is not too delicate with the substrate, but it prefers it very organic and rich and that it does not puddle.
  • Exhibition: Prefer to be in full sun or semi-shade, depending on your climate. If it is humid you can have it in full sun. If it is hot and dry, better semi-shade. In tropical climates it can be planted under a tree and allowed to grow. What is important is to have it protected from cold or dry winds.
  • Cold resistance: It is a tropical plant that cannot stand frost of any kind by itself. The maintained cold makes it stop growing, throw the leaves and eventually dry the entire stems. If it is covered with a large amount of straw and thermal geotextile mesh, it can survive a light frost, but because the cold does not reach it.
  • Pruning: As always, pruning it or not depends on what you want, it is not a necessity of the plant. It is always advisable to prune climbing plants to keep them in check. We will have to eliminate the branches that grow where we do not want, guide them so that they climb where we do want … It also seems that strong pruning encourages it to flourish. Of course, if we do not live in a tropical climate we will be forced to prune it if we want to keep it indoors, especially if we have broken roots because it was planted in the ground. Being a fairly rare and delicate plant, it is advisable to plant the pruning remains.
  • Reproduction: It can be reproduced both by seeds and by cuttings. If you have several specimens together, it is easy that it will eventually produce a pod that you can get seeds from once it opens. For cuttings, it’s as simple as planting the pruning debris and some will grab. Something more reliable is to bury some branches, still attached to the plant, which will encourage the appearance of roots.

What did you think of this plant? If you live in a tropical climate, I definitely recommend adding one to your garden. If not … there are better options, although if you like their flowers a lot, go ahead!

Aristolochia grandiflora: characteristics and growing tips

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