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plant fact sheet
Aristolochia tagala
Text and pictures by Wee Yeow Chin



Unique fruits of the vine


Mature fruit splitting
open to spill the seeds

The unique pipe-like flowers
Scientific name Aristolochia tagala
(Family: Aristolochiaceae).

Common names Indian birthwort, Dutchman's pipe.

Vernacular names
Indonesia: kalayar, puyan, kunit
Malaysia: akar ketola hutan
Philippines: goan-goan, nagerus, timbangan
Thailand: krachao mot, krachao pheemot
Vietnam: d[aaly kh[oos] r[as]ch, ph[of]ng k[yr]

Distribution From the Himalaya to Sri Lanka through Myanmar, Indon-esia, Indochina, China, Thailand to the whole of Malesia, the Solomon Islands and Queensland in Australia.

Description of plant This is an aggressive, sun-loving slender climber. Leaves are simple, oval to oblong, 6- 25 cm long by 4-10 cm wide, tip abruptly pointed, base deeply heart- shaped and alternately arranged. The leaf stalk is 1.5-2.5 cm long. Flowers are in short, branched inflorescences of 3-8 cm long that arise from the leaf axils. Flowers are bisexual, with three perianths that unite into a slender tube of about 7 cm long. The base of the tube is globular, within which is a stumpy column bearing many stamens. This globular base narrows into a curved, cylindrical tube about 1 cm long before ending in a funnel-shaped mouth with a prominent reddish brown to purple, tongue-shaped lip of 2-2.5 cm long.
The mouth opening is pale yellow with a reddish brown to purple rim. The ovary is inferior and can be mistaken for the a tagal flower stalk. Fruits are globular capsule of 3.5 cm diameter on a 2.5 cm stalk. On maturity, it splits into six parts, looking like an inverted parachute. As the fruit sways in the breeze, the numerous, flat and winged seeds are dispersed.

Habitats Forests and open lowland thickets, scrambling over bushes and trees.

Uses The leaves are pounded and applied.to the head by the Malays to treat fever. In Indonesia, the leaves are made into a poultice and applied to the swollen abdomen or limbs. In the Philippines, the plant is used to treat snake bites and malaria. In India, the roots are considered a tonic, carminative and emmenagogue. A number of other species are used by the Chinese for dysentery, high blood pressure, beri-beri and swollen feet.

Other information Birthworts are so-called because the curved flower looks like a womb and therefore, are used by herbalists to remove obstructions after birth as well as to treat difficult births. The other name, Dutchman's pipe needs no explanation. The botanical name Aristolochia comes from two Greek words—cristos and locheia, meaning "noblest" and "childbirth"—no doubt referring to its purported medicinal properties. The fruits of some species are used in pulmonary disorders, probably because they look like human lungs.

The caterpillars of two locally rare butterflies, the Common Birdwing (Troides helena cerberus) and Common Rose (Pachliopto cristolo-chiae asteris), feed on the leaves of this plant.


References

BURKILL, I H (1966). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Vol. 1. Ministry of Agriculture & Co-Operatives, Kuala Lumpur. (reprinted);

HENDERSON, M R (1959). Malayan wild flowers - Dicotyledons. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala lumpur;

KENG, H (1983). Orders and families of Malayan seed plants. Singapore University Press, 3rd ed.

PADUA, L S DE, BUNYAPRAPHATASARA, N & LEMMENS, R H M J (1999). Plant resources of South-East Asia No. 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Leiden.

WEE, Y C & H Keng (1990). An illustrated dictionary of Chinese medicinal herbs. Times Editions & Eu Yan Sang Holdings, Singapore.

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