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Birthwort family
Calico Flower (Aristolochia littoralis), about to open
Scientific classification




Asaraceae Vent.
Sarumaceae Nakai, nom. nud.[1]

The Aristolochiaceae, or Birthwort family, are a family of flowering plants with seven genera and about 400 species belonging to the order Piperales. The type genus is Aristolochia L.

Description[change | change source]

They are mostly perennial, herbaceous plants, shrubs, woody vines or even lianas.

The membranous, cordate simple leaves are spread out, growing alternately along the stem on leaf stalks. The margins are commonly entire. There are no stipules.

The bizarre flowers are large to medium-sized, growing in the leaf axils. They are bilaterally or radially symmetrical.

Classification[change | change source]

The Aristolochiaceae are magnoliids, a basal group of angiosperms which are not part of the large categories of monocots or eudicots.

Some newer classification schemes place the family Aristolochiaceae in the order Piperales.

Phytochemistry[change | change source]

Many members of Aristolochia and some of Asarum contain the toxin aristolochic acid, which defence against predators, in this case herbivores. It is known to be carcinogenic in rats. Aristolochia itself is carcinogenic to humans.

Ecology[change | change source]

Pipevine swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on pipevine (Aristolochia species), and the larvae dine on the plant but are not affected by the toxin, which then offers the adult butterfly protection against predators.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Family: Aristolochiaceae Juss., nom. cons". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2007-04-12. Archived from the original on 2014-05-25. Retrieved 2011-01-09.