My Blog List

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Giant Dutchman’s Pipe or Pelican Vine!

Adventures take many forms.  This one is about a large and prolific plant. 
I have a child-like fascination with odd plants.  If a plant is unusual and attention-grabbing, the more I like it. It was this fascination that led me to purchase a pelican flower.  This tropical vine is also known as “giant Dutchman's pipe” (botanical name Aristolochia gigantea ).  The blooms are huge and awesome!  I love watching them change from a small pelican shaped bud to a bloom the size of my head.
There are numerous species of Dutchman’s pipes.  They get their name from the flower’s resemblance to a meerschaum pipe.  The most prominent feature on the species I grow is the large corolla or leaves which surround a bud.  Before it opens, the corolla swells and resembles the throat of a pelican, hence the name.  It then splits open into a huge heart-shaped maroon flower.
The fragrance of the pelican flower has been described as “lemony. It isn’t strong or particularly unpleasant, and compared with some other maroon flowers, the fragrance of the pelican flower is delightful.  Flowers shaped and colored like the pelican flower usually rely on flies as pollinators and have an odor that attracts bugs.  Odors that are attractive to bugs and flies are not attractive to humans.  In fact, the open blossom of the pelican flower can be said to resemble a piece of well-marbled rotting meat with a center the color of bone or fat!  You can judge for yourself, but I think it is magnificent.

I wanted a vine to grow on my trellis outside the back door that would grow fast, be very thick, and provide privacy when we sit on our lanai. It certainly fulfilled this purpose.  It grew fast and thick and almost overnight engulfed the bird houses I had placed on top of the trellis posts.  Alas, it has almost completely overpowered the passion vines I planted on the other end of the trellis.
It is a great host plant for butterflies. I hoped that the Pipevine Swallowtail would come and lay eggs on it since various Dutchman’s pipes serve as host plants for the butterfly’s caterpillars.  And, they did come.  We soon had a crop of the curious black caterpillars with the orange spines and flocks of this beautiful black butterfly with its peacock blue sheen.  

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