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Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1/Berberideae


A small extra-tropical order, consisting for the most part, of small trees and shrubs, rarely herbs, with scattered, petioled, simple or pinnate, leaves; the margines furnished with spinous teeth. The flowers are regular, hermaphrodite, racemose or solitary; yellow, white, or reddish, being the prevailing colours.

The calyx is inferior, free, of 3 — 4 — 6 — early diciduous sepals, which are often coloured or petaloid and surrounded by several bractioles, are ranged in a double series, with the margines overlapping each other, previous to the opening of the flower, (per CEstivationem alternatim imbricatis). Petals, equalling the number of sepals, and placed opposite! to them; within, often furnished with scales or glands at the base. The stamens are free, equal to the number of petals, and are placed opposite them; the filaments short, occasionally so irritable, that on being slightly touched on the inner surface near the base, they spring forward with elastic force, and strike the anther against the stigma. Anthers two-celled, the cells bursting with elasticity by recurved valves*[1] from the base to the apex, and not according to the more usual form, by pores or a longitudinal slit. Ovary superior, one-celled, with several ovules, usually springing from the base, erect: style short: stigma thick, orbiculate. Fruit a fleshy berry, or indihescent, capsule, with few, exarillate, erect, albumenous, seed; albumen fleshy, or horny, with the straight embryo in the axis.

Affinities. The affinities of this order, like those of Menispermaceae seem as yet doubtful, and uncertain, much diversity of opinion prevailing, regarding them, among Botanists. Generally they are considered very closely allied to Menispermaceae, on account of their ternary arrangement of the parts of the flower, and the stamens being opposite the petals. In both orders there is a double verticel of sepals, and in both, the petals are opposite the stamens: but the habit, unisexual flowers, and structure of the ovary of the latter, is different, Dr. Lindley thinks them more nearly allied to the grossulareae, (the currant and gooseberry tribe) a view in which he is well supported by the similarity of habit of the two orders; as however the question is one of little consequence to Indian Botanists, where but one genus of

the order, Berberis, exists it would be a fruitless labour to pursue the inquiry. Tn the singular structure of the anthers, there is a striking analogy with Laurivce and other orders, not otherwise akin to Berberideae.

Essential Character. Polypetalous, dicotyledons with fewer than 20 stamens, anthers with recurved valves; ovary wholly superior: carpels solitary: leaves furnished with stipules.

Geographical Distribution. Of this order I doubt whether there is one species that truly deserves to be considered tropical. In so far as India is concerned, I believe, this is strictly correct; all the species yet found in this country, being from high hills, where the reduced temperature amply compensates for low latitude. De Candolle (Syst. Veg.) gives a brief summary of their distribution over the globe in nearly the following words "Natives of mountain- ous places in the temperate parts of the northern hemisphere, and of South America as far as the straights of Majellan, none in Africa, Australia, nor in the South Sea Islands." In India I have found them on the Neilgherries, Pulney mountains, and on the more elevated regions of Ceylon; but none under 5,000 feet of elevation above the sea. Mr. Royle has several species from the Himalayas.

Properties and Uses.—Under this head I have but a few words to offer. The plants composing the genus Berberis, are in their native places, very ornamental, but I greatly fear, will not prove such on the plains of India, could we even succeed in introducing them. The berries are acid and astringent, very agreeable to the taste, and in Europe, are employed to make cooling and refreshing drinks for patients affected with bowel complaints accompanied with heat of skin, thirst, and other febrile symptoms : in Nepal those of Berberis cristata, are dried by the hill people and sent down as raisins to the plains. The wood and bark are strongly astringent, and are employed medicinally on account of these properties, either in tincture, or infusion. In the Upper provinces of India, we learn from Mr. Royle, that an extract, prepared by digesting in water sliced pieces of the root, stem and branches, of any of the species of Bar- berry, in an iron vessel, boiling for some time, straining, and then evaporating to a proper consistence; is much employed in Indian medicine, and every where known under the name of Rusot. This extract, he considers the Lyceum of Dioscorides. He adds "The rusot is much used by native practitioners, as an external application, both in the incipient and advanced stage of Ophthalmia; it is frequently also employed by European practitioners, either alone, or with equal parts of Opium and alum rubbed up in water, and applied round the eye. I have seen it particularly useful when the acute symptoms have subsided and the eye is so much swollen as to prevent the effectual aplication of any other remedy. By one surgeon of rank and experience, it was found particularly useful in the ophthalmia with which the European soldiers were afflicted on their return from Egypt; and Mr. Playfair, the translator of the Taleef-Shureef, says, it is perhaps the best application in Ophthalmia, ever used."

So far as I have been able to learn this medicine is quite unknown in Southern India, I would therefore suggest, on the strength of the above very respectable authorities, that some of this extract should be prepared from the species found on the Neilgherries, which are the same as those found on the Himalayas, and subjected to experiment.

In a commercial point of view the species represented is not undeserving of notice, one of the first European chemists (Vauquelin) having ascertained it to be inferior to few woods for dying a yellow colour, a fact, the value of which is enhanced, not less by the facilities of exportation to the coast, by the recently formed roads, than by the extent to which it may be supplied ; the species having a wide range of location along the western range of mountains. Mr. Drury in his report on the commercial products of the Coimbatore district mentions this shrub, adding "that, from experiments which have been made, the root of the tree yields the finest dye." He submits some samples of cloth dyed from the wood, the colours of which I have attempted to imitate on the three squares in the accompanying plate, whether these will be found permanent, technically "fast colours" remains to be ascertained, much of that property depending on the mordants used for fixing them.

Remarks on Genera and Species. As only one genus of Berberideae has yet been met with in India, it affords no room for remark, I may however observe, that, I think there is a new species of Berberis on the Pulney mountains, referable to the section Mahonea, with pinnated leaves. I speak doubtfully, because J did not find flowers or fruit, and judge from habit alone: the Pulney plant being a diffuse shrub, with long, somewhat scandent branches, and the Neilgherry one an erect, sparingly branched tree. In all other respects, so far as I was enabled to judge, they are much alike, with this exception, that the Pulney one is met with at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, the Neilgherry one, to the best of my recollection, not under 7,000 feet of elevation.


1, 2. Branches of the Berberis tinctoria, one in flower, the other in fruit, but not yet mature—natural size.
3. Bracts, sepals and ovary.
4. Petals and stamens, petals, each with two glands at the base.
5. A detached petal.
6. Back and front views of the stamens.
7. Ovary cut vertically, showing the erect ovules, supported on a short pedicel.
8. A mature fruit.
9. The same cut vertically, to show the seeds—alt more or less magnified.
The square figures in the corner represent three samples of cloth, dyed of similar colours, from the wood of this shrub.
Observation.—The detached stamen was taken from a young, dried, flower bud, and did not present the characteristic valvular dehiscence of the order; a defect, unfortunately, overlooked, until the impression had been printed off.

Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1.djvu

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  1. * In preparing the figure, this curious piece of structure was overlooked by the draughtsman, owing to his magnified figure of the anther, being made from a young stamen taken from an unexpanded flower bud, in place of a full grown flower.