The Aristolochiaceae (English: /əˌrɪstəˈlkiəsii/) are a family, the birthwort family, of flowering plants with seven genera and about 400 known species belonging to the order Piperales. The type genus is Aristolochia L.

California pipevine (Aristolochia californica)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Magnoliids
Order: Piperales
Family: Aristolochiaceae
  • Asaraceae Ventenat 1799
  • Hydnoraceae Agardh 1821 nom. cons.
  • Lactoridaceae Engler 1888 nom. cons.
  • Pistolochiaceae J. B. Müll. 1841
  • Sarumaceae Nakai 1936 nom. nud.


They are mostly perennial, herbaceous plants, shrubs, or lianas. The membranous, cordate simple leaves are spread out, growing alternately along the stem on leaf stalks. The margins are commonly entire. No stipules are present. The bizarre flowers are large to medium-sized, growing in the leaf axils. They are bilaterally or radially symmetrical.


Aristolochiaceae are magnoliids, a basal group of angiosperms which are not part of the large categories of monocots or eudicots. As of APG IV (2016), the former families Hydnoraceae and Lactoridaceae are included, because exclusion would make Aristolochiaceae in the traditional sense paraphyletic.[1]

Some newer classification schemes, such as the update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, place the family Aristolochiaceae in the order Piperales, but it is still quite common, though superseded, for the Aristolochiaceae to be assigned, sometimes with some other families, their own order (Aristolochiales).


Four assemblages can be distinguished in the genus-level cladogram of Aristolochiaceae:

  • Aristolochia is closely related to Thottea.
  • Hydnora is closely related to Prosopanche.
  • Lactoris occupies an isolated position.
  • Asarum is closely related to Saruma, and both genera display a deep-branching position in the family.
Genus-level cladogram of the Aristolochiaceae.

  Asarum L. 1753

  Saruma Oliver 1889[2]


  Lactoris Philippi 1865


  Hydnora Thunberg 1775

  Prosopanche de Bary 1868


  Aristolochia L. 1753

  Thottea Rottboell 1783[3]

The phylogeny is based on the Angiosperm Phylogeny Website.[4][5]


Many members of Aristolochia and some of Asarum contain the toxin aristolochic acid, which discourages herbivores and is known to be carcinogenic in rats. Aristolochia species are carcinogenic to humans.


The highly reduced plastid genome map of a member of Aristolochiaceae, Hydnora visseri

The complete plastid genome sequence of one species of Aristolochiaceae, Hydnora visseri, has been determined. As compared to the chloroplast genome of its closest photosynthetic relatives, the plastome of Hydnora visseri shows extreme reduction in both size (ca. 27 kilo base pairs) and gene content (24 genes appear to be functional).[6] This Aristolochiaceae species therefore possesses one of the smallest plastid genomes among flowering plants.[7]


Pipevine swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on pipevine (Aristolochia species), and the larvae feed on the plant, but are not affected by the toxin, which then offers the adult butterfly protection against predators.

Fossil record

The oldest fossil leaf remains are of †Aristolochites dentata from the Late Cretaceous of Nebraska, United States. Pollen record of †Aristolochiacidites viluiensis has been described from Upper Cretaceous sediments of Siberia. Fossil wood is known from the Deccan Traps of India some 66 million years ago. Leaf fossils of Aristolochia are known from the Early and Late Tertiary of North America and the Late Tertiary of Abkhazia, Ukrainia and Poland.[8] Fossil leaf remains of †Aristolochia austriaca have been described from Late Miocene sediments of the Pellendorf site at the Vienna Basin in Austria. †A. austriaca is most similar to the extant Mediterranean species A. rotunda and A. baetica.[9]


  1. Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2016). "An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG IV". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 181 (1): 1–20. doi:10.1111/boj.12385.
  2. "GRIN Genera of Aristolochiaceae subfam. Asaroideae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
  3. "GRIN Genera of Aristolochiaceae subfam. Aristolochioideae". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
  4. Stevens, P.F. (2001). "ARISTOLOCHIACEAE Jussieu". Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. 13. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  5. "Family: Aristolochiaceae Juss., nom. cons". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2007-04-12. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
  6. Naumann, Julia; Der, Joshua P.; Wafula, Eric K.; Jones, Samuel S.; Wagner, Sarah T.; Honaas, Loren A.; Ralph, Paula E.; Bolin, Jay F.; Maass, Erika; Neinhuis, Christoph; Wanke, Stefan; dePamphilis, Claude W. (2016-02-01). "Detecting and Characterizing the Highly Divergent Plastid Genome of the Nonphotosynthetic Parasitic Plant Hydnora visseri (Hydnoraceae)". Genome Biology and Evolution. 8 (2): 345–363. doi:10.1093/gbe/evv256. ISSN 1759-6653. PMC 4779604. PMID 26739167.
  7. List of sequenced plastomes: Flowering plants.
  8. Evolution and Diversification of Land Plants by Kunio Iwatsuki and Peter H. Raven, Springer Science & Business Media, 6. des. 2012
  9. The first fossil Aristolochia (Aristolochiaceae, Piperales) leaves from Austria by Barbara Meller, Article number: 17.2.21A,, Palaeontological Association, May 2014
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