The New International Encyclopædia/Aristolochia

ARISTOLOCHIA, a-ris'to-lu-kl'a (Lat., from Gk. αριστολοχεια, aristolocheia, an herb promoting childbirth, like birth-wort, from αριστος, aristos, best + λοχεια, locheia, childbirth, childbed). A genus of plants of the natural order Aristolochiaceæ. This order consists of herbaceous plants or shrubs, often climbing shrubs, and contains upward of 180 known species, chiefly natives of warm climates, and particularly abundant in the tropical regions of South America. The species are mostly shrubby, some of them climbing to the summits of the loftiest trees. Several are found in the south of Europe; one only, the common birthwort (Aristolochia elematitis), occurs upon the Continent as far north as about latitude 50°, and is a doubtful native of England. It is a perennial plant, with erect, naked, striated stem, heart-shaped dark-green leaves on long stalks, the flowers stalked, and growing to the number of sometimes seven together, the tube of the perianth about one inch long, and of a greenish color. It grows chiefly in vineyards, hedges, about the borders of fields, among rubbish, and in waste places. It has a long branching root, with an unpleasant taste and smell, which, with the roots of Aristolochia rotunda and Aristolochia longja, two herbaceous species, natives of the south of Europe, was formerly much used in medicine, being regarded as of great service in cases of difficult parturition, whence the English name. These roots possess powerful stimulating properties, and those of the southern species are still used as emmenagogues. The root of Aristolochia indica is used in the same way by the Hindus. Aristolochia serpentaria, Virginian snakeroot, is a native of most parts of the United States, growing in woods. It has a flexuous stem, 8 to 15 inches high, bearing heart-shaped, very acute leaves. The flowers are on stalks, which rise from near the root; the orifice of the perianth is triangular. The root has a penetrating, resinous smell, and a pungent, bitter taste. It has long been a fancied remedy for the bite of the rattlesnake. It possesses stimulant, tonic, and diaphoretic properties. It forms an article of export from the United States to Europe, being highly esteemed as a medicine in certain kinds of fever. Its reputation as a cure for serpent bites is shared by other species, natives of the warmer parts of America. Several South American species seem also to possess medicinal properties analogous to those of the Virginian snakeroot. Aristolochia sipho or Aristolochia macrophylla, a climbing shrub of 15 to 20 feet in height, a native of the southern parts of the Alleghany Mountains, is frequently planted in the United States, in Great Britain, and on the Continent of Europe, to form shady bowers. It has very large roimd or somewhat heart-shaped leaves (a foot in breadth), of a beautiful green. The flowers hang singly, or in pairs, on long stalks: the tube of the perianth is crooked in its upper part, inflated at the base, and lined with reddish-brown veins, having a sort of resemblance to the bowl of a tobacco pipe, for which reason the shrub is sometimes called pipe-shrub, pipe-vine, or Dutchman's pipe. Aristolochia tomentosa resembles Aristolochia sipho, except in being smaller, very hairy, and in having yellow flowers. The tropical species are distinguished for their beauty and the peculiar forms of their flowers. Some of them are much-prized ornaments of our hot-houses, Aristolochia grandiflora (Aristolochia gigas of Lindley). the goose-flower or pelican-flower of the West Indies, being one of the most important. Its name is derived from the fancied resemblance to the bird. Fossil forms of Aristolochia have been described from the Tertiary rocks of Greenland, the Rhone Valley, and from Portugal, and still earlier forms, under the names Aristolochites and Aristolochia phyllum, from the Cretaceous of North America.