18th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest Natural World
Birthworth (Aristolochia sp.)

The Aristolochiaceae are a family of herbaceous or woody climbers or shrubs. Both the family name (Greek for ‘best for childbirth’) and the common name (‘birthworts’) refer to the fact that, from the classical to the late medieval period, women drank the juice from the stems to stimulate uterine contactions and help expel the placenta. However, modern research has shown that the roots and stems contain high levels of aristolochic acid, which is carcinogenic and damages the kidneys. The genus Aristolochia is distributed throughout the tropics and subtropics. Their flowers emit a smell to attract pollinating insects such as carrion flies, which are then trapped by hairs inside the floral tube. They are released only when the hairs wither at the end of the day, by which time they are covered in pollen and ready to visit another flower. The specimen shown here is an unopened fruit.

Photo Detail
Date Taken: 02.2020
Date Uploaded: 08.2020
Photo Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Copyright: © Levon Biss