Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1/Menispermaceae


This is a small tropical order, consisting for the most part of twining shrubs, with alternate, usually entire, ex-stipulate, leaves ; and numerous, small, flowers. The flowers are unsexual, and usually diaecious, consisting of one or several rows of sepals, (Lindley) or of sepals and petals, according to other authors, each row, having from three to four parts. The stamens are either distinct, each opposite a petal, as in Cocculus, or they are few and united, forming, in Cissampelos and Clypea, a small antheriferous disk in the centre of the flower, or they are numerous, and united, forming in Anamirta, (the cocculus indicus of commerce) a round head. Anthers, either erect, proceeding from the point of the filament, or adnate, and attached transversely across it, as in Cissampelos. Ovaries, usually several, free, or but slightly united at the base, one-celled, with a solitary, pendulous, ovule, attached, by the middle, to the angle of the cell. Drupes, usually berried, one-seeded, oblique, compressed ; the seed of the same shape as the fruit. Embryo curved in the direction of the circumference. Albumen thin and fleshy, rarely none. Radical superior, " but its position sometimes obscured by the curvature of the seed" (Lindley.)

Several, perhaps all the species, of the genus Cocculus are so remarkably tenacious of life, that if even a large broken, at a considerable distance from the ground, the upper portion, immediately throws out a slender filiform root, which speedily re-establishes the connexion with the soil, and preserves the plant. I have seen such a root eight feet long, and not thicker throughout than a common pack thread.

Affinities. It is difficult in the present state of the science to state the affinities of this order. Hitherto they have been supposed nearly allied to Anonacece and Berberidece, and are placed in nearly all modern systems of Botany between these orders, a view in which Dr. Lindley, and as it appears to me, with good reason, cannot coincide. The following extract will explain his grounds of dissent, at the same time that it exhibits, while canvassing them, the ideas of those who take a different view.

"It is usual to refer the species of this alliance to Polypetalae, because the calyx has its segments in two series ; and it cannot be denied that, if paper characters are alone to be consulted, this ought to be the proper course. But if we compare Cocculales with the orders with which they are thus associated, we cannot find one other important circumstance of agreement. It is usual to station them near Berberacece or Anonacce; but what their affinity really is with such orders it is difficult to conceive, even if we admit their relationship to Schizandrece. But if we look at them with an unprejudiced eye, we cannot fail to be struck with their general resemblance to Smilacccs among Endogens, differing in little except their Dicotyledonous, more highly developed, embryo, and exogenous stem. In the next place, their floral envelopes, although in two rows, and therefore technically composed of both calyx and corolla, agree altogether with the biseriate calyx of some Poh/gonacece, such as Uumex. Thirdly, the absence of zones from the wood assimilates them to Columnosae. In short, look at these plants in what way we will, their relation seems to be in all important particulars with Imperfectce. I, therefore, station them here at the peril of offending all the prejudices that have been gradually growing up since the appearance of the Genera plant arum of Jussieu in 1789."

The following extract from the same work, (Lindley's Natural System of Botany) explains the changes of position which the seed undergoes, in its progress from the ovule, to the mature fruit.

"According to Aug. de St. Hilaire, the ovule of Cissampelos is attached to the middle of the side of a straight ovary, which after fecundation gradually incurves its apex until the style touches the base of the pericarp, when the two surfaces being thus brought into contact unite, and a drupe is formed, the seed of which is curved like a horse-shoe, and the cavity of which is divided by a spurious incomplete dissepiment, consisting of two plates : the attachment of the seed is at the top of the false dissepiment, on each side of which it extends equally. PI. Usuelles, No. 35. The whole order requires careful revision by means of living plants, and is well worth the especial attention of some Indian botanist."

Geographical Distribution. As already stated, this is mainly a tropical order, the species of which are, with a few exceptions, natives of America, and Asia. Only five are known from Africa, and Siberia has one. Mr. Hoyle mentions some species as extending up to the foot of the Himalayas, and states that, Cocculus laurifolius is only found at elevations, on these mountains, of from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. Of the number of species referable to this order, it seems at present impossible to do more than make a guess, owing to the uncertainty which prevails in regard to them : many having been described under two or three different names, or vice versA, two or three under one. Dr. Lindley estimates them under 100, Roxburgh describes 19, Blume gives characters of 16 from Java, exclusive of allied genera. Dr. Arnott and myself, after reducing some species enumerated in Botanical works, assigned 11 as the number referable to the Peninsular flora : one or two I have since added, but even with these additions, I doubt whether the continental flora, so far as yet known, contains more than 25 species. Dr. Wallich, in his list of Indian plants, enumerates 31, but not all continental, and as some of them have, on more careful examination than he had time to bestow, been found untenable, I believe, my estimate though moderate, will be found rather to exceed than fall short of the actual number, on excluding Stauntonia, which Mr. R. Brown does not consider a member of this order.

Properties and Uses. This order though of limited extent, and having nothing attractive in its appearance, yet claims for itself, much consideration, on account of the valuable properties many of its species is known to contain. To it we are indebted for the deservedly esteemed Colombo root, the produce of Cocculus palmatus, so valuable on account of its tonic, and antiseptic properties : the Pareira brava, which was at one time esteemed so powerful a lithontriptic, that it was expected to render useless the operation of Lithotomy, and is still considered in Bazil, its native country, as a most useful remedy in all affections of the urinary passages. To this order also, we are indebted for the Cocculus indicus, so well known in commerce, but for purposes of such doubtful propriety, that its employment by the brewer to adulterate Ale or Beer, is prohibited under no less a penalty than £"200 and £500, upon the seller. The Gulimcha, of this country, so strongly recommended as a febrifuge, (see Calcutta Medical Transactions,) is equally derived from this family. Bitter and tonic properties, in short, seem to pervade every member of the order. The Cocculus (menispermum) palmatus was formerly successfully cultivated in Madras, but being confined to a male plant, was soon lost, it is however, I believe, now growing in the Calcutta botanic garden, and is largely cultivated for its root in the Mauritius.

The extract of Guluncha may be procured from the bruised stems of both Cocculus verrucosus and cordif alius, two very nearly allied species, the former, the produce of the Eastern Islands, the latter, met with in every part of India. The young shoots of the latter are prescribed as a tonic and alterative by the native doctors, and Dr. Ainslie informs us, apparently from his own knowledge of the fact, that the root, in doses of from 15 to 20 grams is a powerful emetic; in which case, it would probably form an excellent substitute for Ipecacuanha. Those who propose making trials of the medicine, ought to collect the plant during the dry season, as it is found to become quite inert during the wet. Several other species of Cocculus are common on this coast, and probably all possess to a greater or less extent, similar properties. Anamirta ( Menispermum ) Cocculus, is abundant in Malabar, and also in the jungles of Courtallum. The seed of this plant is now ascertained to be an active irritating poison to quadrupeds and fishes, and is supposed to be so to man, as it communicates a poisonous quality to the flesh of fishes poisoned by it. They are not I believe used internally in medicine, but powdered and mixed with oil, they are used in Malabar in the cure of the inveterate cutaneous diseases, so common on that coast. These seeds have been repeatedly analysed : the kernel is oily with a nauseous and intensely bitter taste. On analysis it produced nearly half its weight of fixed oil, a concrete of the consistence of wax, an albumenous " Vegeto-animal" substance, a colouring matter, and a bitter crystalizable principle, to which the name of Picrotoxia (bitter poison) has been given, on which its poisonous properties depend, and which is so active, that 12 grains given to a dog killed it in about 50 minutes, notwithstanding the copious vomiting which it excited. What, renders this a more redoubtable agent is, the circumstance of its leaving scarcely any trace of its presence on the coats of the stomach. It seems a subject worthy of the attention of Chemists, to ascertain whether a similar principle exists in the seed of other species. Ceylon produces a large twining shrub, which Gaertner and Roxburgh have described under the name of Menispermum fenestratum, but which Mr. Colebrooke has with great propriety removed from that genus and constituted it the type of a new one under the name of Cosinium, the wood of which is yellow and bitter, and when sliced and infused in water for a few hours, is swallowed with the infusion, and recommended as an excellent stomachic.

The allied genera of Cissampelos and Clypea possess bitter and tonic properties analagous to the these found in Cocculus, and are used as such by native practitioners. The roots however of Cissampelos glabra Roxb. are stated by Roxburgh to be extremely acrid, but are not-withstanding used in medicine by the native practitioners. In the West Indies and America, where the true Ciss. Pareira is found, it is much employed as a tonic in diseases of debility, as well as in those affecting the urinary organs, and is there esteemed, and even called, a universal medicine. Sir B. Brodies in his lectures on diseases of the urinary organs recommends it as particularly valuable, in all cases where there is a copious discharge of urine with a ropy alcaline mucus. It is also serviceable in catarrhus vesicas.

Remarks on Genera and Species. The number of genera referable to this order is large in proportion to the number of species ; four only of these have however, as yet, been found in the Indian Peninsula, viz. Anamirta — Cocculus — Cissampelos and Clypea, all readily distinguished by their male flowers. Anamirta, by having its stamens numerous and united into a globose head. Cocculus, by having them all free, and limited to sex, each embraced by a petal, or petaloid scale. Cissampelos, by having four stamens united into a quadrangular disk, a 4-sepaled calyx, and petaloid scales combined into a single, cup-like, petal, embracing the single filament. Clypea, by having the stamens united, and. forming a circular disk, surrounded by a 6-lobed calyx, and united, petaloid scales, as in Cissampelos. The seed in all are oblique, and curved, so as to bring the ends together like a horse-shoe. With reference to the species, I have nothing to offer in addition to what has been already said in our flora, with the exception, that Rheede's figure vol. 7, tab. 62, quoted for Cocculus suberorsus, or Anamirta Cocculus, is more properly referable to C. macrocarpus, and that vol. 7, tables 19, 20 and 21, quoted for C. malabaricus, and C. cordifolius, seem all referable to the same species, and I think have a strong general resemblance to Anamirta, but certainly want the panicled inflorescence of that genus. Neither of these however, are good figures of C. cordifolius. Our genus Clypea, embraces the elements of two genera, the first species, C. harnandifolia, being a true species of Clypea, while C. Burmanni, may form the type of an intermediate genus, but more nearly approaching Cissampelos, than Clypea: and for which Dr. Arnott proposes the name of Cyclea; distinguishing it from both, by the male calyx being of one piece, campanulate, 4-lobed ; and collaterally by the absence of the foliacious bracts at the base of the female pedicels. To each of these genera, an additional species has recently been added. That to Clypea, which Dr. A. has designated C. Wightii, a species I found at Courtallum, is at once distinguished from C. harnandifolia, by the male flowers being all collected into a single capitulum,in place of forming an umbel of 5 or 6 long peduncled capitula. I hope soon to publish outline figures, of these species, as well as of all those, ascertained to be endowed with useful properties.


1. Flowering shoot of Cocculus macrocarpus, male plants.

2. Panicle of ripe fruit, natural size.

3. Male flowers, showing the sepals, and anthers, one with the sepals, slightly 3-lobed at the apex, the other a smaller flowered variety, with the sepals entire.

4. A detached stamen, with its adjoining petal.

5. A dried mature carpel, as seen in the herbarium.

6. The same, one-half of the testa removed to show the seed.

7. The seed in situ, cut longitudinally, to show the form of the cotyledons.

8. The same removed from the testa, the pointed or superior extremely, the radical—all more or less magnified.

Observation.—The cotyledons are enclosed in a thin coating of albumen, not shown in the plate.

Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1.djvu

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