Aristolochia serpentaria  Troy Weldy

Aristolochia serpentaria
Troy Weldy

Class
Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
Family
Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort Family)
State Protection
Threatened
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
S2
Global Conservation Status Rank
G4

Summary

Did you know?

Virginia snakeroot's species and common name comes from its use by Native Americans and pioneers to cure rattlesnake bites. It was also used to treat fevers, toothaches, coughs, and disorders of the stomach and lung. The genus name is Greek for best (aristos) delivery (lochia) for its ancient use in child delivery.

State Ranking Justification

With the exception of a few casual reports, this plant was absent from the New York flora for nearly 100 years. Numerous surveys tried to relocate this plant, but the focus was in areas that resemble its southern habitats. Not until 1994, when this plant was finally rediscoverd in New York, did we begin to understand its New York habitat. Since then, more surveys have been conducted in appropriate habitat and we know of at least six populations. As surveys continue, we expect to find more populations of this plant in the Hudson Highlands and the mid-Hudson Valley.

Short-term Trends

Since this plant was just rediscovered in New York in 1994, the short-term trends are difficult to assess. Now that the habitat requirements in New York are better understood, more populations are being discovered. These may have been present all along or this plant may be spreading northward. Populations that have been surveyed more than once appear stable.

Long-term Trends

After going nearly a century without any reports of this plant (absent between 1895-1994), this plant was rediscovered in the Hudson Highlands. Since this rediscovery, a number of new populations have been found. Whether these populations were here all along or if the plants are increasing in this region is unclear. Stanley Smith commented in the 1960s that he thought he saw this plant at a site in Ulster County, New York, but no voucher specimen was collected. All of the historical populations in the New York City and Long Island area are presumed extirpated.

Conservation and Management

Threats

Besides a few plants being nipped by deer, no threats are known within New York.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

While this plant has a specific habitat requirement, it requires no active management. Although active forestry is not practiced in areas where this plant is currently known, it should be noted that clear-cutting may be incompatiable with the protection of this plant. Likewise, any development proposed upslope from Aristolochia populations should study potential impacts.

Research Needs

Now that habitat requirements are better understood, habitat modeling could assist with finding new occurrences in the Hudson Highlands.

Habitat

Habitat

An often difficult to see plant of well-drained wooded slopes, rocky slopes of oak woods, open woods, moist woods, rich woods, and only rarely in clearings. It particularly seems to favor drainage patterns on southwest to southeast facing slopes in oak-hickory forests or chestnut oak forest. Search areas on the slope where leaves collect as water drains down the slope. These areas may have lots of Carex pennsylvanica surrounding the water sink, but little to no Carex pennsylvanica directly within the drainage where the Aristolochia may be concentrated (New York Natural Heritage Program 2004). Mesic forest (FNA 1997). Moist or dry upland woods (Gleason & Cronquist 1991). Rich, often calcareous soils, woodlands and floodplains (Mitchell and Beal 1979). Rich, often calcareous woods (Fernald 1970).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Appalachian oak-hickory forest (guide)
  • Chestnut oak forest (guide)
  • Limestone woodland* (guide)
  • Oak-tulip tree forest* (guide)
  • Rich mesophytic forest* (guide)
  • Successional old field*

Associated Species

  • Acer saccharum (sugar maple)
  • Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard)
  • Arabidopsis lyrata
  • Asclepias quadrifolia (four-leaved milkweed)
  • Aster divaricatus
  • Carex albicans var. albicans
  • Carex digitalis
  • Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
  • Carya glabra (pignut hickory)
  • Corydalis flavula (yellow corydalis)
  • Corydalis sempervirens
  • Cunila origanoides (American dittany)
  • Galium circaezans (forest wild-licorice)
  • Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam, ironwood)
  • Panicum boscii
  • Quercus alba (white oak)
  • Quercus montana (chestnut oak)
  • Quercus rubra (northern red oak)
  • Quercus velutina (black oak)
  • Ranunculus micranthus (small-flowered butter-cup, small-flowered crow-foot)
  • Solidago caesia

Range

New York State Distribution

This plant is currently only known from a few locations on the west side of the Hudson River in the Hudson Highlands where is appears on well-drained rocky wooded slopes dominated by various deciduous hardwood species and Carex pensylvanica. Southeastern New York is at this species' northern range limit.

Global Distribution

This plants is found throughout much of the eastern United States ranging from Connecticut, southern New York, southern Michigan, and Iowa, south to Texas and Florida.

Best Places to See

  • Wildcat Mountain, Harriman State Park (Orange County)
  • Schunnemunk Mountain State Park (Orange County)

Identification Comments

General Description

This plant has lance to arrow-shaped leaves 6-12 cm long that are arranged alternately on a stem that can grow to 60 cm long. The stem may be erect if short or lying on the ground if long. The flowers will usually be hidden under the leaf litter, one at the end of each branch. They are inch-long, purple, S-shaped flower tubes that flare-out at the tip.

Identifying Characteristics

The stems of this plant are slender and erect to decumbent. The leaves highly variable but generally ovate to oblong, acuminate, and truncate to cordate at the base. The flowers appear solitary on slender, scaly peduncles from the lowest nodes. These are often buried below the leaf litter. The calyx is deep purple to chocolate in color and strongly curved.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Fortunately, one can easily identify this plant based on leaves alone. Since the flower is often hidden under the leaf litter, it is infrequently observed.

Similar Species

A very unique plant, even vegetatively, that is not easily confused with any plant in our region.

Best Time to See

The plant flowers from mid-May to late July and the fruits persist until late October. Since this plant will often appear in areas surrounded by Carex pennsylvanica, surveys may be most effective after the Carex begins to senesce. The ideal survey time is from July to September.

  • Vegetative
  • Flowering
  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Virginia Snakeroot vegetative, flowering, and fruiting in New York.

Virginia Snakeroot Images

Taxonomy

Virginia Snakeroot
Endodeca serpentaria (L.) Raf.

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Anthophyta
      • Class Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
        • Order Aristolochiales
          • Family Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort Family)

Additional Common Names

  • Serpentary
  • Narrow-leaved Snakeroot
  • Serpentaria
  • Virginia Serpentaria
  • Snakeweed
  • Pelican-flower
  • Snagrel
  • Sangree-root

Synonyms

  • Aristolochia serpentaria L.
  • Aristolochia serpentaria var. hastata (Nutt.) Duchartre

Comments on the Classification

Together the segregate genera Endodeca and Isotrema form a very well supported clade that is morphologically, molecularly, and cytologically distinct from the rest of Aristolochia sensu lato (Kelly and González 2003, Neinhuis et al. 2005, Ohi-Toma et al. 2006, Wanke et al. 2006). These authors work strongly supports Hubers (1993) taxonomic alignment which recognizes Endodeca and Isotrema as distinct genera. Ohi-Toma et al. (2006), while supporting the recognition of segregate genera within Aristolochia s.l., chose to lump Endodeca under Isotrema because the two share the same chromosome number but their work also strongly supports the recognition of the two as distinct at the generic level with the choice somewhat subjective. We currently recognize Endodeca (E. serpentaria) and Isotrema (I. macrophyllum, I tomentosum) as distinct from Aristolochia (A. clematitis) following (Huber 1993, Kelly and González 2003, Neinhuis et al. 2005). A few taxa (all occurring south of New York) have been described within Endodeca serpentaria (e.g. Aristolochia hastata, A. convolvulacea) sometimes at the infraspecific level. We follow recent authors (Gleason and Cronquist 1991, Berringer 1997) in recognizing only one variable taxon.

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Other References

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 1997. Flora of North America, North of Mexico. Volume 3. Magnoliophyta: Magnoliidae and Hamamelidae.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Huber, H. 1993. Aristolochiaceae. Pages 129-137 in K. Kubitzki, J. Rohwer, and V. Bittrich (editors), The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants. Volume II. Springer, Berlin, Germany.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Ernest O. Beal. 1979. Magnoliaceae to Ceratophyllaceae of New York State. New York State Museum Bulletin 435, 62 pp.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

Mitchell, Richard. 1994. Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria) rediscovered in New York. NY Flora Association Newsletter 5(4): 1-2.

New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Enviromental Conservation. March 1998. Element Occurrence Record Database. Latham, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research http://www.fccdr.usf.edu/. University of South Florida http://www.usf.edu/]. New York Flora Association http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/, Albany, New York

Links

About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: September 7, 2004

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Endodeca serpentaria. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/virginia-snakeroot/. Accessed February 17, 2019.

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