It is appearing within my oleander bushes now, and is climbing up stems at an alarming rate. It is a tenacious climbing plant, with strong stems, up to 45 cm in height, ascending and generally branched. Leaves have a simple, almost heart-shaped appearance, and with a long petiole, or stalk, measuring around 5-20mm, joining it to the stem.

The blooms are what I would call a brown-purple colour, and you can see where the name Pipe Vine comes from, as it resembles one of those old Meerschaum pipes from yesteryear, curving downwards from a small bowl shape, before growing up and opening wide, exposing a furry interior. Aristolochia baetica is a perennial vine that occurs in North Africa and the southern Iberian Peninsula, from Algeria to Portugal, and can be found on roadsides and other waste ground where the plants scramble over shrubs and rough stone walls. It flowers from June to August, and the seeds are borne in large pods, that are revealed as light furry seeds that are carried by the wind or piggy-backing on wild animals.

This beautiful, hardy pipe vine apparently originates from Portugal and is said to bloom from May till June, although now, in February, I see flowers already on mine, perhaps due to the warm winter, or growing in a sheltered spot.

Strong Smell

They are actually one of the few fly-catching plants that don’t digest their catch – but instead, the flowers have a specialised pollination mechanism. The plants have a strong smell (it reminds me of furniture polish), and this scent attracts insects. The inner part of the bloom is covered with hairs, acting as a fly-trap. These hairs wither which releases their prey, probably dazed and confused, but covered with pollen, the following morning.


Be careful of this, as it is poisonous if ingested. The term Aristolochia in its scientific name Aristolochia baetica possibly derives from the words for ‘best’ and ‘childbirth’ or ‘cradle’ in ancient Greek, hence the name sometimes used of ‘birthwort’.

Aristolochia plants have been used for centuries in traditional medicine. However, their active component, aristolochic acid, has been linked in several studies of the plant in herbal medicines with cancer. Aristolochia is a component of some Chinese herbal medicine and has been shown to be both a potent carcinogen and a kidney toxin.


The seed pods of Dutchman's Pipe start off green, and as they dry out they open up into a basket or an upside-down parachute, where the seeds can loosely remain in the open seed pods for a long period of time before being disturbed, awaiting wind or animals to upend them spreading the seeds far. This adds an extra frustrating element to removing plants that have already set seed amongst the canopy.

Credits: envato elements;

Is it a pest?

Because it’s a climber, it apparently can also be properly guided along a wall or fence if you have a space to fill. Personally, I think its’ growing habit is somewhat like Morning Glory - a strong, fast-growing weed that can smother and outcompete native plants on the ground and into the canopy, reducing habitat for native plants and animals.

If you choose to remove the Dutchman's Pipe if it’s getting out of hand, pull or dig out plants making sure to remove all roots. For larger infestations cut down the vine before it develops seeds (before summer) and dig out roots or treat them with recommended herbicide. Just remember that all parts of Dutchman's Pipe are considered to be highly toxic to humans and animals, so wear gloves and wash carefully after handling.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan