European Birthwort Aristolochia clematitis

Scientific Name: Aristolochia clematitis (Aristolochiaceae). 'Aristolochia' means 'best childbirth' and 'clematitis' means 'clematis-like'.

English Name: European Birthwort (Birthwort family).

French Name: Aristoloche clématite (='clematis birthwort').

5 Key Characters:
  • twining plant that will creep over and climb up surrounding vegetation to about 80 cm.
  • leaves large (up to 10 cm across) and heart shaped.
  • flowers rather small and inconspicuous, pale yellow, but a distinctive trumpet shape.
  • unpleasant smell.
  • seedpods fat, pear shaped, hanging.


Habitat: Dry, hot, alkaline soil, rocky or sandy places, in vineyards.

Flowering Period: May-June-July-August-September.

Status: Widespread but uncommon. John Robertson points out on The Poison Garden that this is one of the most poisonous plants and has probably caused more harm than any other, partly due to the mistaken belief in the Doctrine of Signatures which led to a plant with a uterus shaped flower being prescribed by herbalists for childbirth. In fact it leads to renal failure and urinary tract cancer. It has also caused similar problems in modern times when the seeds of this and related species contaminate cereals or are included in traditional Chinese medicines.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

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