I have been looking for a perennial vine for a particular pot in my formal garden and I came upon Aristolochia macrophylla. It’s large, dark green heart-shaped leaves and vigorous growth were a big plus but the unusual flower promised by the seller really caught my eye. Hum…, I thought to myself, I never thought this plant was grown or its flowers. Guess what? It’s not. The foliage is the reason this vine is popular and the mahogany and cream flowers might be a draw if they were larger and not hidden by the foliage. At a couple of inches long they are inconspicuous at best. The flowers are shaped like a Dutchman’s smoking pipe, and have an unusual, but not offensive fragrance. You would probably not notice them unless you were a fly. Flies, on the other hand, are attracted by the scent; they enter the flowers and are trapped there for a day or so until the flower releases pollen on them and reopens allowing the fly to go off and carry the pollen to another flower. The plant is also important as a host plant for pipevine swallowtails. These butterflies lay their eggs on the pipevine leaves where the caterpillars emerge and eat the leaves heartily, ingesting a chemical that makes them poisonous to birds. Both the pipevine swallowtail and butterflies that look like them are protected from predators in this way.
Type: Twinning deciduous perennial vine.
Bloom: Inconspicuous, cream and mahogany, 2” flowers shaped like a smoking pipe borne in clusters of 2-3 in late spring to early summer.
Foliage: Simple, entire, alternate, 4-10” wide heart shaped leaves.
Size: 15-30’ H x 15-20’ W.
Light: Full sun to part shade.
Soil: Rich, medium moist, well-drained.
Hardiness: Zones 4-8.
Care: Prune in early spring to keep under control.
Pests and Diseases: None of significance.
Propagation: Seeds, division.
Photo: Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder.