Dutchman's Pipe

For me, all vines have a tropical feel to them. Though I am currently living far from any jungle, exploring the Appalachian Mountains certainly seems like it at times. I am enamored by the lush greenery that coats these mountains. One of my favorite sites is to look down a hillside and see Dutchman's pipe scrambling through the canopy. Hiking along the trails, these vines dangle just out of arms reach. 

Known scientifically as Aristolochia macrophylla, the Dutchman's pipe vine belongs to the same family as plants in the genus Asarum and Hexastylis. Based on its growth habit, this seems like a wild departure from such grounded understory herbs. However, see this plant in flower and there is no mistaking its heritage. The blooms are where the name Dutchman's pipe comes from as each flower resembles a curved smoking pipe. These flowers are very much worth a closer inspection.

This shape is not for our amusement. As with any flower, its all about sex. These elaborate blooms emit a foul odor, which attracts flies. Looking for a meal and perhaps a place to lay their eggs, the flies crawl down into the curved tubular neck. Once inside they become trapped by backward pointing hairs. After sufficient time, pollen dusts the trapped insect and the hairs wither away. The fly is then free to leave the flower and hopefully make the same mistake again. Over the course of a few weeks, pollinated flowers are replaced by a large pod filled with wind-borne seeds. 

Aside from tricking flies, Dutchman's pipe has a close relationship with another flying insect. The larvae of the stunning pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) feed solely on members of this genus. With large leaves, beautiful flowers, and important ecological relationships, Dutchman's pipe is the whole package. Its vining habit adds complexity to forests throughout its range. It is also a wonderful plant for native gardeners looking for a unique climber.