Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 135 Aristolochia elegans

Common Names: Calico flower, Dutchman's pipe, pipe vine Family: Aristolochiaceae (birthwort Family)
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calico flower
This head-on shot shows the calico pattern of the calico flower but a side view is needed to see the "Dutchman's pipe" shape.


This neat little vine deserves more attention. Calico flower is a tender evergreen vine with very unusual flowers and beautiful bright green heart shaped leaves. These are about 3 in (7.6 cm) long by 2 in (5 cm) wide and grow closely together to create a dense mass of foliage. Slender woody stems twine gracefully in tight coils around fence wire and other supports lifting itself to heights of 10-15 ft (3-4.6 m). In summer the vine produces quantities of 3 in (7.6 cm) flowers scattered among the drooping leaves. The greenish-white flowers have a s-curved tubular shape that is flared at the mouth that resembles a 19th century Dutch pipe (recall Sherlock Holme's pipe).

Species of Aristolochia are generically called pipe vines or Dutchman's pipes for this reason. The inner portion surface of the mouth of the "pipe" is covered with a purplish-brown pattern that is reminiscent of calico fabric which inspire this species common name "calico flower". "Dutchman's pipe" is a name more commonly used for another species, A. durior, which is a hardier plant native to the southeast United States. This "real" Dutchman's pipe has a smaller bloom that is not as showy as calico flower but is a great vine to grow as well as all of the pipevines are important larval food sources for several species of butterflies.


Aristolochia species are found all over the world. A. elegans is native to South America with Brazil being its home territory.


Requires only average soil to look good. Does well in light sandy soils as well. Light: Part sun to shade. Moisture: Average moisture. Will endure short periods of drought and still look fresh. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 10. In zone 8 the tops will be killed to the ground in freezing weather but usually return in the spring. Propagation: By layers and by seed. "Volunteer" seedling plants are often found near mature vines.


calico flower
This calico flower will happily grow in a container as demonstrated by this big bruiser living in a pot on Steve's porch.


Because is has such luxuriously dense (and attractive!) foliage this vine makes a great screen. It is especially good at covering chain-link and other wire fences - I used it to screen a chicken coop from sight. It's also nice growing up a trellis on the patio or near an entry where the striking flowers can be seen at eye level by passersby. This rugged robust vine also does well in containers with regular watering.

Beautiful foliage, unusual flowers, freedom from pests and ease of growth make this one of my favorite vines. The flowers make a great conversation piece looking like something out of a Star Trek episode.


Member of the genus Aristolochia are also called birthworts and are occasionally encountered in herbal preparations as a remedy for various ailments as well as to ease the pain of childbirth. They were sometimes used to treat malaria and other diseases. Many Aristolochias contain the alkaloid aristolochic acid and other components. All of these plants are highly toxic, especially to the kidneys. Avoid herbal supplements containing members of this genus. Incorrect doses can cause vomiting, pain and even death.

A. littoralis is classified as a Category II (an invasive exotic that has increased in abundance or frequency but has not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category I species) by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. Use caution with this plant in similar climates. The Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association (FNGA) is urging Florida?s nursery and landscape industry professionals to phase out production, sale and use of Aristolochia plant and 34 others (click to read more»)

Jack Scheper 10/30/98; updated 10/23/03

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Aristolochia species profiled on Floridata:

Aristolochia elegans

( Calico flower, Dutchman's pipe, pipe vine )

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