Virginina Snakeroot – Aristolochia serpentaria

Overall At-Risk Score: 47

Latin Name:

Aristolochia serpentaria (L.); syn: A. hastata

Common Name:

Virginia Snakeroot

Family:

Aristolochiaeae (Birthwort Family)

Geographic Region:

Native to most of Appalachia and the southeast United States, into Texas and Louisiana.
AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MI, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV

Habitat:

Virginia Snakeroot requires forested hillsides rich in organic matter, meaning it is found predominantly in intact old-growth areas or late-successional forests.

Lifespan:

Perennial;

Reproduction:

Virginia Snakeroot produces lateral stems from its base, with a single hairy flower on the end of each stem. These flowers are an odd tobacco pipe shape, pail green to a dark maroon color, and are covered with very fine white hairs. These flowers are pollinated by insects and once fertilized, develop into a small six-valved pod.³

Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:

This species tends to grow in a rather spread out fashion, and rely on consistent soil conditions. This makes A. serpentaria easy to over harvest and slow to recover in a previously harvested area.

Status of Endangered/Threatened(by state):

Listed as Threatened in: CT, IL, IA, and MI. Endangered in: NY

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

The root of the plant is harvested and dried for use in teas.Virginia Snakeroot has been used historically to treat dangerous parasites, like malaria.

Vulnerability of habitat/changes of habitat quality and availability:

A plant that requires older stands of forest is going to have a hard time finding large tracts of land in the eastern US to populate. Though much of the Appalachian Mountains is aging into a successional stage suitable for A. serpentaria, this plant is easily crowded out by faster growing invasive species.³

Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

The Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) caterpillar requires A. serpentaria for a portion of its development. Removing plant from the wild can reduce populations of these woodland butterflies.

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

Wild harvest of this species should be reduced and replaced with cultivated supply options, or alternative herbal medicines.

  1. ITIS Report. Aristolochia serpentaria.
    https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=18342#null
  2. USDA Plants. Wild Yam.
    https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=arse3
  3. John Hilty. Illinois Wildflowers. Aristolochia serpentaria.
    http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/va_snakeroot.html
  4. Guy Hasegawa. Military Medicine. Quinine Substitutes in the Confederate Army
    https://academic.oup.com/milmed/article/172/6/650/4578095