You are going to have to go a long way to find a flower more sinister than the amazing Aristolochia salvador platensis. Looking like a Halloween death mask, or Darth Vaders full-face helmet, this species is so rare that hardly anything is known about it. These particular images are all that most will come across and were taken at the Jardin botanique de Lyon, France.
It is a member of the Aristolochiaceae family which includes over 500 species. Its members are commonly known as birthworts, pipevines or Dutchman's pipes and are widespread and occur in the most of the world's diverse climates.
Native to Brazil, this large woody climber can be found in open flood plains. In fact its descriptive name 'platensis' means wet sedgy meadows.
It has a smooth bark and its distinctive mask shaped flowers are produced from April until June. Each flower has distinctive cream-coloured 'eye sockets' fringed with succulent purple hairs.
There is good reason behind the conspicuous shape and purple patterning of the flowers. This because they are intended to both look and smell like rotting flesh, something they achieve with nauseating excellence. This mimicry has evolved in order to attract its insect pollinators.
The membrane at the back of the 'eye sockets' is extremely thin and allows light through. These act like a tiny windows and attracts pollinating insects which fly towards this creamy light.
This area houses the sexual parts of the flower, and once inside the insect is imprisoned by specialist downward facing hairs.
When the insect has been trapped for long enough it will become covered in pollen. The imprisoning hairs wither and the insect is free to go and pollinate another flower.
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