This thriving climbing part with spectacular inflorescence is native to South America. The solitary flowers, which can reach an exceptional 30 cm in length, are a burgundy colour with cream-coloured veins, and have a distinctive pollination strategy.
Aristolochia is formed by aristos (excellent, best) and locheia (the blood discharge following childbirth, still referred to as lochia today). Gigantea means “giant”.
Description and flowering period
It is a climbing vine which rapidly reaches 10 meters in height – occasionally 20. Its young slender stems twine around any available support in its vicinity. Its dense persistent foliage is composed of bright green heart-shaped leaves covered with white hairs on their underside. Its solitary flowers consist of a creased widely spread limb and of a curved tube. They reach a remarkable size (30cm in length and 15cm in width) and are mostly burgundy with cream-coloured veins. Its fruits are capsules shaped like upside-down parachutes which burst when mature to liberate numerous flat paper-like seeds. A noteworthy fact is its flower’s peculiar pollination strategy: pollen bearing insects are lured towards the flower by its strong ammonia scent. Once inside the flower they are then held captive by the numerous hairs covering the inside of the flower tube. Only when pollination has been successfully completed do the hairs start to wither, thus freeing the insect. Upon leaving, the insect gets covered once again by pollen, thus is ready to pollinate a new flower.
It requires a well-drained soil and a sunny to partially shady exposure.
The whole plant is toxic! A highly harmful and carcinogenic substance called aristolochic acid is extracted from numerous plants in the Aristolochiaceae family, this substance is prohibited in many European countries, including France.