Field of Science

A vision of lurid loveliness!

In several places rampant vines intertwine and climb their way to our greenhouse’s roof, so visitors are often surprised by this huge, dangling, head-high flower. Top to bottom this flower is about 12 inches of lurid, ghastly loveliness, especially if you have the delicate sensibilities of flies.

The plant is Aristolochia gigantea. Members of this genus are often called “birthworts”, and were thought to aid in childbirth (from the Greek for best (aristos) and childbirth (lochia)). Such names were derived from ancient concepts of like cures like, sometimes referred to as the doctrine of signatures, meaning that the creator in their wisdom indicated what plants such as this were good for by leaving a “sign”, a similarity to some body part.
For pollination these plants generally trap flies or similar insects lured by odors (and appearance) of carrion, rotting flesh. The trap consists of a sharply bent tubular portion of the corolla, unseen in this image, lined with wrong-way pointing hairs, so it’s easy to crawl in but impossible to crawl out. Supposedly this resembles a fetus in the correct position for birth, and with the vaginal appearance of the corolla, this accounts for the common name, and its supposed connection to childbirth.
Although common in herbal medicines of the world, The Phactor does not recommend adding birthworts to your medicine cabinet because of their toxicity.


ilex said...

Good god, man. If I wore a monocle, it would have popped off at the sight of that photo. My delicate sensibilities are shocked, shocked. And OK, titillated.

Plants are so much more interesting/fabulous than people.

The Phytophactor said...

Dear Holly,
The Phactor thinks you're his kind of woman.

ForestJane said...

That thing looks absolutely huge in the photo with no frame of reference. It'd be enough to give me nightmares!

Found your blog from, nice job!

The Phytophactor said...

This blooming flower is a very impressive 12 inches long, top to bottom.