Why You Should Grow Dutchman's Pipe Vines

Pipevine a Great Butterfly Plant That Gives Shade, Hides Eyesores

Image showing what the leaves of Dutchman's pipe vine look like.
Dutchman's pipe vine is grown mainly for its foliage. Its large, numerous leaves can provide shading and privacy. David Beaulieu

Botanical Name

While everyday gardeners may refer to this plant by the common names "Dutchman's pipe" or "pipevine," in terms of plant taxonomy it is called Aristolochia macrophylla. An alternate botanical name is Aristolochia durior. One tends to wince when one has to deal with an alternate scientific name -- because the whole idea behind botanical nomenclature is supposed to be "one plant, one name" -- but there you have it.

Plant Type

Dutchman's pipe is a woody, deciduous vine. If you have ever noticed a resemblance between the leaves of this plant and those of wild ginger (Asarum canadense), there is a good reason for that: They are both in the Aristolochiaceae (birthwort) family.

Attributes of Dutchman's Pipe Vines

Aristolochia macrophylla is a climbing vine. This vigorous grower reaches a height of 20 feet to 30 feet tall. Under ideal conditions, the growth rate may be quite fast.

The flower, which blooms in June in zone 5, is shaped like a meerschaum pipe, giving the vine its common name. Do not let the novelty of the flower's form be the deciding factor in selling you on this plant, though: The dense foliage often obscures the flowers. The foliage is the plant's best feature. The leaves are cordate (that is, heart-shaped) and large. The coarse texture thus provided is useful for contrast with more delicate leaves.

Below (see Uses in Landscaping) learn why the foliage's density, specifically, is useful.

Zones, Native Origin

Native to eastern North America, Aristolochia macrophylla will likely perform best in growing zones 4-8. There are a variety of other types of Aristolochia (including A. gigantea and A. tomentosa) that hail from various regions of the world, but this article deals specifically with A. macrophylla.

Growing Conditions, Location

Plant in full sun to partial shade and in a soil with good drainage. Keep the ground evenly moist during the growing season. Work humus into the soil to promote fertility.

Considering the size and vigor of this vine, it is important to plant it where it will have plenty of room to grow. This is not the kind of plant that you shoehorn into a tight spot or install next to smaller plants, which may well struggle to compete with it.

Plant Care

Dutchman's pipe climbs by the twining method. Most growers furnish a support for it, so that the vine will twine around something of their choosing. It will also be prudent on your part to train the vine as it climbs, so that you have more control over where it grows.

Moreover, if you wish to maintain a tidy display, you may have to prune a mature Dutchman's pipe with some regularity. Pruning is best done in late winter or early spring. Being vigorous (once established) and amenable to pruning, the best advice for dealing with mature specimens can be summed up with the saying, "Spare the pruners and spoil the vine." As long as you cut off no more than one-fourth of the plant at any one time, you should be all right. Another general pruning rule with trees, shrubs and perennial vines is to prune off no more than one-third of a plant's growth in the course of the entire year.

But how, specifically, should you prune this perennial? Look for the weakest branches and any growth that seems to be getting out of hand -- and prune those off.

Uses in Landscaping

Classified as one of the flowering vines, Dutchman's pipe is, nevertheless, more useful as a foliage plant. Its leaves fill in densely, suggesting a number of potential uses, most notably as:

  • Plants that cast shade to keep an area cooler during the summer
  • Plants that screen out prying eyes from areas where you want privacy
  • Plants that hide eyesores in your landscaping

For example, one frequently sees Dutchman's pipe vines growing up the front of a porch on older homes, in which role they cast welcome shade during summer's scorching reign (while simultaneously furnishing some privacy). If you do not have a porch but desire an outdoor living space of some sort where you can relax on a hot day, drink in hand, then consider erecting a pergola or large garden arbor and train the vines so that they grow up and over it.

The density of its foliage also makes Dutchman's pipe vine effective in hiding eyesores. For example, perhaps you have chain-link fencing and feel (as many do) that it provides a horrible background for a particular planting bed during the summer. By training Dutchman's pipe along it, you could obscure the fencing and procure a nice green backdrop for enhanced viewing of the bed.

Dutchman's pipe vines are also important host plants for butterflies. According to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), "Pipevine is the primary food for Pipevine Swallowtail." The butterflies are not drawn to the plant simply because they like the taste. According to NABA, "Scientists have determined that pipevine plants contain chemicals that when ingested by the caterpillars make them poisonous." As a result, would-be predators avoid eating the caterpillars.

More generally, the vine is a good candidate for woodland gardens, since it can stand a bit of shade.