1. Family: Aristolochiaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Aristolochia L.
      1. Aristolochia grandiflora Sw.

        There are around 120 species of Aristolochia from the tropics and subtropics, most of which are woody vines or herbaceous perennials with heart-shaped leaves.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Pelican flower produces enormous trumpet-shaped flowers, which smell of rotting meat and attract flies and wasps as its pollinators.

    There are around 120 species of Aristolochia from the tropics and subtropics, most of which are woody vines or herbaceous perennials with heart-shaped leaves.

    The extraordinary Aristolochia grandiflora, named in 1788 by Olof Swartz (1760-1818), has one of the largest flowers of any New World species and deserves its name ‘ grandiflora’ (large flower). Each trumpet-shaped flower lasts for two days. On the first day it is in the female phase, attracting flies by its foul smell, similar to that of rotting meat. The flies are trapped by the downward facing hairs in the pouch of the flower to ensure pollination. On the next day, the flower changes to male phase and pollen is deposited on the pollinators, the odour disappears, the hairs wither and the insects are released.

    Aristolochia grandiflora is cultivated as an ornamental. This and other species of  Aristolochia are also grown as food plants for tropical swallowtail butterflies. Extracts of the whole plant are used by traditional healers in Colombia to treat snake bites. It is also used as an antibiotic.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Aristolochia grandiflora occurs naturally in the lowlands of southern Mexico to Panama and on Jamaica. It has been introduced elsewhere, including the southern United States as a food plant for swallowtail butterflies. It has also become naturalised in parts of Western Australia.


    Aristolochia grandiflora is a large, herbaceous climber with stems reaching 10 m or more. The leaves are broadly cordate (heart-shaped), smooth or downy. The flowers are tubular, ending in a wide heart-shaped mouth 10–20 cm across, with the point extended into a long tail up to 60 cm long. The flower is white, veined with brownish purple, but darker in the throat. It opens at dawn and gives off a foul smell that attracts pollinators, mostly flies and hornets. The flowers close again at dusk.

    This species at Kew

    Kew’s specimen of the pelican flower in the Princess of Wales Conservatory produces enormous flowers. After heavy pruning in 2009, it flowered non-stop for five months.

    Alcohol-preserved specimens of Aristolochia grandiflora are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. 

    View details and images of specimens

    Kew’s Economic Botany Collection includes samples of the roots and fruits of Aristolochia grandiflora.

    The fruits were sent to Kew by William Bancroft Espeut from Jamaica, following a letter to Joseph Hooker where Bancroft Espeut described Aristolochia grandifloraas ‘one of the most voracious insect destroyers’.

    The samples are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment.

    Jamaica, Mexico
    Tropical forests, thickets, near streams and gullies.
    Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.

    Poisonous to humans and livestock.

    Ornamental, traditional medicine, food plant of tropical swallowtail butterflies.



    Found In:

    Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Nicaragua, Panamá, Trinidad-Tobago

    Introduced Into:

    Bangladesh, Cuba, Jamaica, Leeward Is., Puerto Rico, Windward Is.

    Common Names

    Pelican flower

    Aristolochia grandiflora Sw. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jan 1, 1968 s.coll. [s.n.] K000820424
    Jan 1, 1968 s.coll. [s.n.] K000820425
    Jan 1, 1968 s.coll. [s.n.] K000820426
    Jan 1, 1968 s.coll. [s.n.] K000820427
    Sparrow, M. [114], Mexico 29047.831
    s.coll. [s.n.] K000820428

    First published in Prodr. Veg. Ind. Occ.: 126 (1788)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
    • [2] (2016) Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 87: 559-902
    • [3] (2015) Botanical Sciences 93: 365-417
    • [4] Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013) Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh , Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh
    • [5] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [6] Garcia-Mendoza, A.J. & Meave, J.A. (eds.) (2012) Diversidad florística de Oaxaca: de musgos a angiospermas (colecciones y listas de especies) , ed. 2: 1-351. Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
    • [7] Idárraga-Piedrahita, A., Ortiz, R.D.C., Callejas Posada, R. & Merello, M. (eds.) (2011) Flora de Antioquia: Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares 2: 1-939. Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín
    • [9] Hokche, O., Berry, P.E. & Huber, O. (eds.) (2008) Nuevo Catálogo de la Flora Vascular de Venezuela . Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela
    • [10] Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008) Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas . SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
    • [14] Govaerts, R. (1995) World Checklist of Seed Plants 1(1, 2): 1-483, 529. MIM, Deurne


    • [8] The Plant List (2010). Aristolochia grandiflora.
    • [11] Burgess, K. S., Singfield, J., Melendez, V. & Kevan, P.G. (2004). Pollination biology of Aristolochia grandiflora (Aristolochiaceae) in Veracruz, Mexico. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 91: 346-356.

      Herklots, G. (1976). Flowering Tropical Climbers. Dawson, Folkestone, & Science History Publications, New York.
    • [12] Otero, R., Núñez, V., Barona, J. et al. (2000). Snakebites and ethnobotany in the northwest region of Colombia. Part III: Neutralization of the haemorrhagic effect of Bothrops atrox venom. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 73: 233-241.
    • [13] Brummitt, R. K. & Powell, C.E. (1996). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [15] Aguilar, M. I., Espejo, O. & Camacho, D. (1992). Chemical constituents of Aristolochia grandiflora. Fitoterapia 63: 275.
    • [16] Adams, C. D. (1972). Flowering Plants of Jamaica. University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.


    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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    Kew Species Profiles
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