I love it when things like this happen to me. Alan and I went into town yesterday to run some errands and to phone our lawyer, out of the earshot of the hired help. Our neighbors– the ones we have land disputes with– pulled a pistol on our land surveyors the other day and we needed to plan the police visit here to address the issue, but never mind that.
When I got home there was this thing on my desk. I wasn’t exactly sure what to call it. It was a bit wilted so at first I thought it was a mushroom and then I thought it was an orchid. Today, after much searching on the Internet, I found this peculiar little plant our hired hand, José Domingo, left for me. He is always doing things like that. He knows I love the extraordinary, the weird, and the mysterious things we have all about us in this jungle– neighbors aside.
At first, once I got over thinking it was a mushroom or an orchid, I thought it was a pitcher plant, those creepy insect-eating plants like the one in Little Shop of Horrors. After much searching, I finally found my plant. Aristolochia.
This plant genus has over 500 species, and is also known as birthwort or pipevine, an allusion to the Meerschaum pipes once common in the Netherlands. They are clematis-like vines that like semi-shade and tend to cascade down the sides of trees at the jungle’s edge. The one José left for me yesterday looks exactly like this one. There were two more still hanging on the the vine.A bit more research reveals that this plant is not, in fact, an insectivore, but uses the same principal to pollinate itself. , Bees and butterflies are attracted to its highly aromatic scent. Once they alight to collect nectar, a sticky substance on the hairs of the trumpet-like flower entraps them. Unlike their insectivore relatives, however, the Aristolochia traps the insect for only a short time. Then the fine hairs that line the throat of the flower dissolve to free the insect, now covered in pollen.
According to the web sites I consulted, Aristolochia, or birthwort, was used as long ago as ancient Egyptian times to assist women in childbirth. Like a natural version of pitocin, it was used to help women expel the placenta after the birth of the baby. Other genuses were used to treat snakebite and worm infestations. It has ceased to be a widely used because it also contains toxic levels of aristolchic acid, which can be fatal to humans.
So, I won’t use it, but it certainly is interesting to know about, and I love it. I love it more than my neighbors, that’s for sure.