I have a few dozen more photos from the biothon, but I want to interrupt briefly to share this photo. We have a vine growing up the side of our screen porch. It wasn’t blooming during July, when we moved in, and though I watched it for the rest of that year and all of the next, I never saw any flowers. I assumed it must be a non-flowering vine, or perhaps just grown too old to be very productive. I couldn’t tell what it was by the foliage, and while I apparently asked my mom her opinion I didn’t remember that I had and certainly didn’t remember her answer.
Then yesterday I was helping Dan with some yard stuff that required climbing under another individual of the same species of vine, this one behind our shed. And while I was crawling around down there I discovered – a flower! But not just any flower; these were the coolest flowers.
Residents of eastern North America south of the Great Lakes might recognize this as pipevine or Dutchman’s pipe, and more specifically Woolly Pipevine, Aristolochia tomentosa. In more southern regions it’s a native plant, but here in Ontario it occurs only as ours does, as an artificially-planted garden ornamental. Of course, the pipevines, members of the genus Aristolochia, take their name from the shape of the flowers. Each flower is about an inch or so long from top to bottom, curved into the shape of an old (Dutch?) pipe. The flowers are designed to be temporary fly traps: the flies, attracted to the flowers’ strong scent, climb inside; small hairs point backward toward the reproductive organ and prevent the fly from leaving until it’s reached the female bits – then the flower releases its pollen and the hairs wither, allowing the fly to leave to pollinate another flower.
This species is one of the host plants of the Pipevine Swallowtail. Like Monarchs do from their host plant, milkweed, Pipevine Swallowtail catterpillars ingest unpalatable chemicals from the pipevine leaves that in turn make them distasteful to predators. We don’t have Pipevine Swallowtails up here, though, and I’m not sure if anything else will brave the toxins in the leaves to use it.
Still, the flowers are pretty nifty. Which is a good thing, because the vine is overrunning that section of garden and until I discovered the blooms I was quite prepared to pull it out!