The Birthwort Family

Common Birthwort Thracean Birthwort Thracean Birthwort Common Birthwort

What are they?

A family of plants that have been popular in the past as either medicinal plants or as garden curiosities. Forming the family Aristolochiaceae, birthworts are most common in the tropics, where some grow into large climbers and scramblers. Plants of temperate regions tend to be smaller, herbaceous plants but all have the curious, tubular flowers that are a trade mark of the group.

Where are they found?

There are no native species, so any members of this group will be either garden escapes or established in urban sites or churchyards.

Identification

Overall this is a large family, but we only have three species in our area, which are readily told apart by either their flowers or their leaf shape.



Common Birthwort      Aristolochia clematitis

A rare, introduced species, long-known from a handful of sites where it may have been originally introduced for its medicinal properties. Flowers June to September. The arrowhead-shaped leaves and strange, tubular flowers in clusters in the leaf axils make this plant easily recognised.

Common Birthwort Common Birthwort Common Birthwort Common Birthwort
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Thracean Birthwort      Aristolochia hirta

Introduced from Turkey/northeast Greece and first found in a wood in Breckland in 1969, where clearly a garden introduction or escape. Still survives there in what is the only UK site for the species. Flowers June, carried singly in the leaf axils. Leaves arrowhead-shaped leaves. The strange, tubular flowers look like meerschaum pipes and have earned the group the name of 'Dutchman's-pipe'. The flowers have a foul smell and the intricate design ensnares flies as part of the pollination process.

Thracean Birthwort Thracean Birthwort Thracean Birthwort Thracean Birthwort
Habit
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Asarabacca      Asarum europaeum

Introduced. A peculiar little plant, grown in the past as a curiosity but not as popular now. Has been recorded in the past from single locations in both Suffolk and Norfolk. Flowers June. Forms a low mound of shiny, kidney-shaped leaves, under which the peculiar, brownish flowers lurk, unseen unless searched for.

Asarabacca Asarabacca Asarabacca Asarabacca
Habit
Flower
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