California Dutchman’s Pipevine

There are over 500 species worldwide in the “pipevine” family. These plants contain aristolochic acid and are highly toxic, particularly to kidneys. In addition pipevines are carcinogenic. Nevertheless, pipevines have been utilized as medicinal plants since the time of the Egyptians and even today naturopaths employ pipevines for such diverse uses as increasing white blood cell count, expelling the placenta after childbirth, wound healing and relieving edema.

As mentioned in my previous post (Pipevine Swallowtail 05-22-14), the pipevine swallowtail butterfly caterpillar feeds on pipevines. The subspecies of pipevine swallowtail  found in Northern California (Battus philenor sp. hirsuta) uses the California Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia californica) as its host.

California Dutchman’s pipevine is a native, deciduous, climbing, woody vine (liana) that can grow to 20 feet in length. Endemic to Northern California, this Dutchman’s pipevine can be found in riparian zones and at seeps, springs and other moist area at lower elevations.

The flowers appear in the early spring before the leaves. Hanging from the leaf axils, California Dutchman’s pipevine flowers are green to pale brown and have a curving pipe shape. The flowers are formed from sepals, have purple veins and a yellow or red lining. The heart-shaped leaves are silky. The fruits are winged, capsular and green.

California Dutchman’s pipevine flowers have an unpleasant odor and attract carrion-feeding insects. Once thought to be carnivorous or insectivorous, this plant is not. When insects crawl into the flowers they close, forcing the “intruder” to wander about inside the flower picking up pollen. Eventually the flower opens again and the insect escapes to pollinate other pipevine plants.

The California Dutchman’s pipevine flowers were photographed in Tilden Regional Park (Berkeley CA) near the botanical garden in March. The leaves, photographed in May, were growing along the Blue Gravel Mine Trail in Redding CA. Another common name for California Dutchman’s pipevine is more simply California pipevine.

I love these unique flowers.

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2 Responses to California Dutchman’s Pipevine

  1. Lin Erickson says:

    Thank you…I liked your butterfly blog so much this week I looked up the CA pipevine to see if I could obtain one. Your blog today confirmed it is not poisonous to the pipeline swallowtail.

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