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Aristolochia tagala Cham. 1832
pronounced: a-riss-toh-LOCK-ee-uh TAG-uh-luh
(Aristolochiaceae – the Dutchman's Pipe family)
synonym: Aristolochia acuminata Lam. 1783
pronounced: a-riss-toh-LOCK-ee-uh ah-kew-min-AH-tuh
common name: Dutchman’s Pipe, Indian Birthwort
There is some doubt as to the accepted botanical name of this plant: Kew gives Aristolochia tagala, and Tropicos Aristolochia acuminata. I have followed Kew, who are doing a tremendous amount of work in sorting out synonyms.
Aristolochia is derived from the Greek αριστο– (aristo-), best and λοχια (lochia), of childbirth, referring to the medicinal qualities of the plant in helping childbirth; tagala is probably named for a village in the Kachin State of north-eastern Burma. In the synonym, acuminata is from the Latin acuninatus, pointed, sharp.
This is the host plant for the magnificent Cairns Birdwing butterfly, Troides euphorion, Australia’s largest butterfly, and is also used by the Clearwing Swallowtail Cressida cressida, the Cape York Birdwing Troides priamus, and the Red-bodied Swallowtail, Pachliopta polydorus. The plant is found in the Indian sub-continent, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Thailand, and North Queensland. It was collected by Banks and Solander at the Endeavour River in 1770. It occurs in forests and thickets, usually up to about 800 m in altitude.
Dutchman’s Pipe is a twining herb. Its stems are cylindrical and tapering, slightly furrowed, and glabrous. The petioles are 2.5 – 4 cm long, glabrous; the leaf-blades ovate-cordate or oblong-ovate, usually 8 – 12 cm by 4 – 14 cm, but sometimes as large as 24 cm by 22 cm, papery, both surfaces glabrous, palmately veined, 3 – 5 pairs from the base, the base deeply cordate. The flower racemes are in the axils of leafy shoots, 2- or 3-flowered, 2 – 6 cm. The pedicels are about 1 cm in length, sparsely hairy. Bracteoles are ovate-lanceolate, less than 1 cm. The calyx is pale yellowish or greenish, the throat dark purple, 4 – 6 cm. The capsule is obovoid-globose to ovoid-cylindric, 3.5 – 5 by 2 – 3.5 cm, dehiscing from the base. The seeds are roughly triangular, about 8 mm by 8 mm.
As well as being essential for the Cairns Birdwing, the species is the source of several traditional medicines. The Malays pound the leaves and apply the pulp to the head to reduce fever. In Indonesia, a poultice made with the leaves is applied to swollen abdomens or limbs. In the Philippines, snake-bites and malaria are treated with this plant. In parts of India, the roots are the source of a tonic to assist digestion, to release stomach and intestinal gas, and to stimulate menstruation.
Here are a few details about the Cairns Birdwing butterfly, for those who haven't followed up the link given above. The wingspan of the female can reach 18 cm. The smaller male butterfly has green wings with black markings, while the female has black wings with yellow and white markings. The abdomen of both male and female is yellow, and the thorax red.
The larva is black and features short spines along the upper surface of the thorax and abdomen. The spines are red or pink in the intermediate sections. The larva’s head has a white mark. A full-grown caterpillar may have a purple tinge in its colouring and can grow to a length of 9 cm. The pupa, or chrysalis, is typically grey-yellow or golden. The butterfly emerges from the chrysalis about one month after pupation has begun. The adult butterfly lives for 4 or 5 weeks. The coupling of the male and female in mating can last for up to 36 hours.
The butterfly lives in tropical rainforests between Mackay and Cooktown. It is most often seen flying in the canopy of the rainforest. The destruction of rainforest has led to a decline in the population of the butterfly, and it is now a protected species.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2010, 2013
Page last updated 17th July 2018