Virginia Snakeroot

Aristolochia serpentaria

Virginia Snakeroot is one of several species of vines known as "pipevines." This species grows up to 18 inches tall and has thin, heart-shaped leaves. The stems of the plant tend to zig-zag.

Virginia Snakeroot grows in forests and thickets, where it has plenty of shade. This plant is also a perennial, living for many years.

The roots of Virginia Snakeroot are tough and knotty. It also has rhizomes, which are sideways-growing, underground stems that send up new stems and leaves.

Copyright, Eleanor Saulys

Copyright, Eleanor Saulys

Copyright, Smithsonian Institution Botany Section, B. Steury


Flowers are long and "pipe-shaped." They are purplish-brown and 3/4 inch long. Virginia Snakeroot blooms from May to July, and flowers are found very close to the ground. Usually, people can't see them, because they are hidden in leaf litter. The center of the flower is red and resembles raw meat, and flowers also smell like rotting meat. This smell attracts flies and other insects.

When a fly enters a flower, stiff hairs inside the flower trap the insect. Since the hairs point downward, the fly must move in that direction. Deep inside the flower, the fly gets covered with pollen. Then, the hairs relax and the fly is able to escape. The hairs also relax when pollen from another flower rubs on them. This way, the plant uses insects to pollinate itself.

The fruit of Virginia Snakeroot is round and about 1/2 inch wide. It contains many seeds. Because seeds are so close to the ground, they are probably only eaten by small mammals, such as mice and chipmunks.

Virginia Snakeroot, and other pipevines, are an important food source for the Pipevine Swallowtail. This butterfly only lays its eggs on pipevines. Caterpillars eat quickly. One caterpillar may remove the leaves of 25 separate snakeroot plants! Virginia Snakeroot leaves contain chemicals which make the caterpillars poisonous to birds and most other predators. These chemicals stay in the insect when the caterpillar changes into a butterfly, giving it further protection.

Hugh Wilson

Virginia Snakeroot is most often found in thick forests, underneath oaks, hickories, pines, or sweetgums. It will grow alongside other forest plants, but it usually gets crowded out by aggressive plants that are very competitive.

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source

Animals Using as Shelter

Associations With Other Plants


Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail

Black Oak

Pipevine Swallowtail Pa

Blue Bottle Fly

White Oak

Blue Bottle Fly Po

White-footed Mouse

Willow Oak

Eastern Chipmunk

Mockernut Hickory


Virginia Pine

Virginia Creeper

Poison Ivy

Relationship to Humans:

Virginia Snakeroot is sometimes used in medicines. Taken in large amounts, this plant is poisonous. Because Virginia Snakeroot has difficulty competing with other plants, and is not as common as it once was, it is illegal to collect it.


Aristolochia serpentaria


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