Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

One strange flower

with 28 comments

Aristolochia erecta Flower 1578

I’ll bet most of you have never seen a wildflower like this little one. It’s Aristolochia erecta, called swanflower or grassleaf pipevine, and botanists place it in the Aristolochiaceae, or birthwort family. If you’re wondering about the common name of the family, the American Heritage Dictionary says that “the European species A. clematitis was used as a folk medicine to aid childbirth.” I wish it could help botanists give birth to technical names without as many vowels stacked up near the end as there are in Aristolochiaceae, where five of the last six letters are vowels.

Like the past six photographs, this one comes from an April 27th field trip led by botanist Bill Carr (who modestly has just one vowel in each of his names) to Bastrop State Park. Several species of swanflower grow in Travis County, where Austin is, but I think the only place I’ve ever seen one here is in a planter at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 14, 2014 at 5:48 AM

28 Responses

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  1. Maybe it’s strange, but it has a cunning abstract quality that lures.


    June 14, 2014 at 5:57 AM

  2. So unusual. I’ve never heard of them before. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.


    June 14, 2014 at 5:57 AM

    • I find these flowers unusual too, Debi. I’m glad to have a picture of something so out-of-the-ordinary to share.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2014 at 6:51 AM

  3. Looks like it is a type of fly trap.


    June 14, 2014 at 6:06 AM

  4. Oh wow! How I would love to find this little gem! You are so fortunate to have been able to pair up with Bill Carr. One of these days…
    I love the work you are doing and aspire to be half a good with my photography. I did learn a LOT from you last year during your class at the Wildflower Center. Thank you!!!


    June 14, 2014 at 7:07 AM

    • Ah, so you haven’t run across one of these in the wild either. Given that you’ve spent so much time in nature and are so familiar with native plants here, this flower must really be rare. Let’s hope we both find some more of them.

      Any time I can go on a field trip with Bill Carr, I go. I missed one earlier this year because of a conflict, but I’m glad I made it to the Bastrop one. If I hear of any more, I’ll let you know.

      I’m happy you’re enjoying all these photographs, Agnes. As you know, I spend plenty of time out in nature with a good camera (and especially a good macro lens), so if I didn’t have something to show for all that, I’d be a poor practitioner.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2014 at 7:29 AM

  5. What an unusual flower. It reminds me of the jack-in-the-pulpits I grew up with. It looks like those little white “dots” actually are held away from the surface by tiny stems. Is that right? And I love the hairy fringe that makes it look like some strange sort of floral flagellate.


    June 14, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    • To your “unusual flower” we can add Geyata Ajilvsgi’s description in Wildflowers of Texas: “rather bizarre.” She also say’s it’s fragrant, but I guess I was too busy trying to get a decent picture in the low light to notice. Similarly, I can’t recall if the white patches are raised from the darker background.

      In reading further in Geyata’s description I noticed her observation that “Although this plant is common, it is rarely found in flower, for usually larvae of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly… keep it eaten to the ground.” I’ll have more on that butterfly next time.

      I like your alliterative phrase floral flagellate, which flutters fleetingly but then flows fluently.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2014 at 7:47 AM

  6. oh yes, that is a true gem of a flower! questions, questions: how tall is it? do the leaves look a bit like a delicate coreopsis?

    • A little gem it is. According to one of my books, this plant can grow to 1 ft. tall, the flower to 4 inches long and 3/8 inch wide. The leaves are described as “to 4 3/4 in. (1.2 dm) long, to 9/16 in (1.5 cm) wide, grasslike, alternate, short-stalked.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      • with ‘grassleaf’ in its common name, i assumed it would be ‘grassy,’ but the leaf in the image seemed to ‘point’ toward the base of the flower…. thanks for the extra details!

        • I’m not even sure, Lisa, that any of the leaves in the photograph belong to the swanflower. I so seldom have seen this plant that I don’t have a good sense of it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 14, 2014 at 9:14 AM

  7. i agree


    June 14, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    • I take it you mean with the first part of the previous comment. I’ll chime in with my agreement too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2014 at 8:27 AM

  8. Botanists crack me up on how often they feel the need to reclassify things. The Science was meant for field observation, not dna lab stuff they do now. That’s why us horticulturists just roll our eyes when it’s done.

    Midwestern Plant Girl

    June 14, 2014 at 9:20 AM

  9. One of my favourites! Beauty shot again!


    June 14, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    • Thanks for letting me know you like it that much. In this case the subject is unusual enough that it did most of the work of producing an appealing photograph. I’m fortunate to have been there to record it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2014 at 10:14 PM

  10. That’s stunning. What creatures pollinate it, do you know?

    Emily Heath

    June 15, 2014 at 12:38 AM

    • I didn’t know the answer to your question, Emily, but at


      I found this statement about the genus as a whole: “These flowers have a specialized pollination mechanism. The plants are aromatic and their strong scent attracts insects. The inner part of the perianth tube is covered with hairs, acting as a fly-trap. These hairs then wither to release the fly, covered with pollen.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 15, 2014 at 5:12 AM

  11. Marvelous, elegant, striking. Nice shot, too! 🙂


    June 16, 2014 at 4:33 PM

  12. Cette fleur est vraiment magnifique Steve, elle ressemble un peu à un arum!


    June 20, 2014 at 4:53 AM

    • C’est une bonne comparaison, Chantal. Vous les européens avez Aristote, et nous avons Aristoloque.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 20, 2014 at 6:25 AM

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