Know Your Natives – Texas Dutchman’s-Pipe and Virginia Snakeroot

Texas Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia reticulata) and Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria) are non-woody woodland perennials of the Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort) Family.  Mature plants can consist of a bundle of a few to numerous stems to 18 inches tall and bearing alternate leaves.  Stems are fairly uniform in size from top to bottom, but swollen at leaf junctions and becoming zigzag from leaf to leaf toward the top.  Leaf size is generally greatest mid-stem, tapering smaller toward the stem base and tip .  Plants are seen from early spring into late fall, but disappear above ground in winter.  Plants tend to occur singly and in limited numbers.

Short, weak flowering stems, which grow from the base of plants in mid-spring, are partially hidden by leaf litter.  Flowers are purplish to reddish with a tubular S-shaped calyx (corollas are absent), a shape characteristic of the genus.  Pollinator flies are trapped in the base of flowers by the constricted neck and inward-pointing nectar-bearing hairs until stamens mature (stigmas mature before stamens).  When stamens have matured, hairs wilt and flies leave carrying pollen to fertilize other plants.

Seeds form in round capsules that split into six segments at maturity in early summer.  Seeds have no means of self-transport and thus are released at the plant’s base.  Seeds are rounded and somewhat flattened, with tiny papillae (bumps or wrinkles) on the outside surface.  Seed dispersal is by birds and small mammals.

Texas Dutchman’s-pipe and Virginia snakeweed are important host plants for pipevine swallowtail butterflies.  By ingesting aristolochic acids in the plants, caterpillars and butterflies become unpalatable to predators.  (Adults of several other butterfly species mimic the appearance of pipevine swallowtails for their own defense.)

Texas Dutchman’s-pipe

Texas Dutchman’s-pipe is found in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.  In Arkansas, it is found in scattered counties in the northwest, southwest and central portions of the state.  Plants grow in well-drained, rocky or sandy woodlands in partially shady to mostly sunny areas.  The entire plant is covered with short hairs.  Elongated, ovate to heart-shaped, thick leaves are deeply veined on top and deeply ribbed below.  The leaf surface between veins is flexed, giving the surface a rough-textured appearance.  The leaves appear to be perfoliate, but are actually on short petioles with lobes of the leaf bases wrapping around the stem.  The edges of leaves are entire and the apex is obtuse to rounded.  Each flowering stem has several flowers with each flower on a separate branch.

Photo 1

Photo 1:  Texas Dutchman’s-pipe in mid-spring.

Photo 2

Photo 2:  Caterpillars of pipevine swallowtail on Texas Dutchman’s-pipe.

Photo 3

Photo 3:  Flowers of Texas Dutchman’s-pipe.

Virginia Snakeroot

Virginia snakeroot, once used to treat snake bites, occurs from Texas to Iowa and eastward to the Atlantic.  In Arkansas, it occurs statewide.  Plants grow in moist, well-drained woodlands in shady to lightly sunny areas.  The non-hairy stems may be branched near the base.  The stems of Virginia snakeroot are thinner and weaker than Texas Dutchman’s-pipe and may recline on the ground (decumbent).  The thin, slightly shiny, elongated to linear, heart-shaped, non-hairy leaves are on long petioles.  The lobes at the base of the leaves are flared toward the stem.  The edges of leaves are entire and the apex tapers gradually to a long, pointed tip.  Each flowering stem has one flower.

Photo 4

Photo 4:    Virginia snakeroot in mid-spring.

Photo 5

Photo 5:  Flowers of Virginia snakeroot.

Photo 6

Photo 6:  Drying seed capsules of Virginia snakeroot.

Articles and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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