Aristolochia cretica - Cretan Birthwort

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Piperales - Family: Aristolochiaceae

The saxaphone-shaped flower of Aristolochia cretica

Above: The saxaphone-shaped flowers of Cretan Birthwort

The plants of the Aristolochiaceae family attract their pollinators (flies) by exuding a strong smell from their flowers which are typically saxaphone-shaped. When the flies crawl down into the flowers, they are trapped by the hairs that surround the 'mouth' and remain, crawling around, inside the flower overnight. By the following morning the hairs have withered and the flies, now covered with pollen, are able to escape and move on to other flowers and so complete the pollination cycle.

Cretan Birthwort is relatively rare and not easy to find. Its habitats are shady and rocky places and the plant and flowers are well disguised by surrounding grass and other plants.

A close-up photograph of the hairs surrounding the lip of the flower

Hairs surround the mouth of the flower of Cretan Birthwort

Aristolochia cretica is endemic to Crete and Karpathos. It blooms from the end of February to the beginning of July.

The plants shown on this page were photographed in Crete in early April.

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