Kew today - Our large flowered birthwort puts on a tremendous show
The curious incident of the monster flower in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens.
29 Oct 2009
Kew's large flowered birthwort (Aristolochia grandiflora) is in flower in the Princess of Wales Conservatory
After rigorous pruning last year, Kew's large flowered birthwort (Aristolochia grandiflora), located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory has put on a tremendous show this year, flowering nonstop for an astonishing five months.
Each extraordinary trumpet shaped flower lasts one day - just long enough for them to be successfully pollinated. These flowers also emit a rotting meat smell to attract insects, trapping them with downward facing hairs in the pouch of the flower. These hairs wither once the pollen has been deposited and the insect is released, free to pollinate other birthworts.
What's in a name?
Birthworts are so named because of a medieval belief (known as The Doctrine of Signatures) that sickness could be cured by a plant that looked like the disease. Birthworts were used to induce childbirth and ease its pain because the flower resembled the birth canal.
The birthwort has also been used in other herbal preparations over the years. But these plants are highly toxic, especially to the kidneys, and their use is extremely dangerous.
There are over 500 different species of birthwort in the world, most of which are woody vines or herbaceous perennials with heart-shaped leaves, and they are widely distributed around the world.
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