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Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1/Nymphoeaceae


A small order of aquatic, herbaceous, floating plants; with peltate, or cordate, fleshy leaves; widely distributed over the northern, but very rare in the southern hemisphere; more remarkable for the beauty of their flowers, and peculiarities of structure of their seed, which has given rise to much discussion among Botanists as to their affinities and station in the system of vegetables, than for their useful properties.

The flowers are distinguished, by their numerous imbricated sepals, and petals, passing gradually into each other, but finally distinguished, by the former being persistent, while the latter separate like those of other flowers. The petals, and stamens, are inserted into a large disk which surrounds, and more or less covers, the pistil, and pass imperceptibly into each other. The stamens are numerous, and inserted into the disk above the petals; the filaments are petaloid, the anthers adnate, bursting inwards by a double longitudinal cleft. Ovary superior, polysporous, many celled, with numerous stigmas, radiating from a common centre, forming a sort of cup. The fruit is many celled, indehiscent, with numerous albumenous seeds, attached to its spongy partitions, and enveloped in a gelatinous aril. Albumen farinacious. Embryo small, on the outside of the base of the albumen, enclosed in a membranous bag. Cotyledons foliacious.

Affinities. I have already observed, that much diversity of opinion exists among Botanists as to the affinities of this order, these, have been carefully examined by Dr. Lindley, and are ably stated by him in his Natural System of Botany, from which I shall introduce a rather long extract, explanatory of his views of their structure, the principal question being to determine, whether they are Mono—or Dicotyledons.

"There exists a great diversity of opinion among Botanists as to the real structure of this order, and, consequently, as to its affinities. This has arisen chiefly from the anomalous nature of the embryo, which is not naked, as in most plants, but enclosed in a membranous sac or bag By some, among whom was the late L. C. Richard, this sac or bag was considered a Cotyledon, analogous to that of grasses, and enveloping the plumule; and hence the order was referred to Endogens, or Monocotyledons, and placed in the vicinity of Hydrocharacece. By others, at the head of whom are Messrs. Mirbel and DeCandolle, the sac is considered a membrane of a peculiar kind; and what Richard and his followers denominate plumule, is for them a 2-lobed embryo, wherefore they place the order in Exogens, or Dicotyledons. I do not think it worth citing all the arguments that have been adduced on each side the question, as Botanists

seem now to be generally agreed upon referring Nymphceacece to Dicotyledons. I observe moreover, that Von Marties, who once adhered to the opinion, that Nymphceacece are Monocotyledonous, and nearly related to Hydrocharacece, (see Hortus Regius Monacensis, p. 25) now places the order in its true position near Ranunculacece (see Conspectus, No. 188). Those who are curious to investigate the subject are referred to DeCandolle's Memoir, in the first volume of the Transactions of the Physical and Natural History, Society of Geneva. In this place it will be sufficient to advert briefly to the proof, that is supposed to exist of Nymphceacece, being Dicotyledons. In the first place, the structure of the stem is essentially that of Exogens, according to MirbePs examination of the anatomy of Nuphar luteum, in the Annales du Museum, vol. 16, p. 20; and of Nelumbiwn, the close affinity of which, with Nymphceacece, no one can possibly doubt, in the same work, vol. 13, t. 34. In both these plants the bundles of fibres are described as being placed in concentric circles, the youngest of which are outermost; but they all lie among a great quantity of cellular tissue: between each of these circles is interposed a number of air-cells, just as is found in Myriophyllum and Hippuris, both undoubted Dicotyledons in the opinion of every body, except Link, who refers the latter to Endogens, (see Gewachsk, 6, p. 288). Secondly, the leaves are those of Dicotyledons, and so is their convolute vernation, which is not known in Monocotyledons, and their insertion and distinct articulation with the stem. Thirdly, the flowers of Nymphceacece have so great an analogy generally with Dicotyledons, and particularly with those of Magnoliacece, and their fruit with Papaveracece, that it is difficult to doubt their belonging to the same group. Fourthly, the reasons which have been offered for considering the embryo Monocotyledonous, however plausible they may have appeared, while we were unacquainted with the true structure of the ovule of other plants, have no longer the importance that they were formerly supposed to possess. The sac, to which I have already alluded, to which so much unnecessary value has been at- tached, and which was mistaken for a cotydelon by Richard, is no doubt analogous to the sac of Saururus and Piper, and is nothing more than the remains of the innermost of the membranous coats of the ovule, usually indeed absorbed, but in this and similar cases remaining and covering over the embryo. Brown (appendix to King's voyage) considers it the remains of the membrane of the Amnion. DeCandolle assigns a further reason for considering Nym- phceacece Dicotyledons, that they are lactescent, a property not known in Monocotyledons. But in this he is mistaken ; Limnocharis, a genus belonging to Butomacece, is lactescent. It must moreover be observed, that the arrangement of the woody matter of Nupha-r luteum is far less obviously exogenous than weuld be supposed from the manner in which it is described by Mirbel." See Lindley's Natural System of Botany, 2d Ed. page 11.

This order in addition to the peculiarities above cited, affords one of the best examples of the gradual transition of sepals into petals, and petals into stamens, there being intermediate rows of both, that belong neither to the one set, nor the other. In some as Nymphcea, the disk is so remarkably developed, that it elevates itself as high as the top of the ovary, to the surface of which it adheres, and the stamens being carried up along with it, appear to proceed from the top of the ovary ; and " in the genus Barclaya, the petals also are carried up with the stamens, on the outside of which, they even co-here into a tube, so that in this genus we have the singular instance, of an inferior calyx, and superior corolla, in the same plant." Lindley.

As the affinities of this order have been so repeatedly and carefully examined by the ablest Botanists of the age; I shall in preference to attempting to state them in my own words; again have recourse to Dr. Lindley's assistance, and introduce another extract from his excellent work.

"Supposing this order to be exogenous, and Dicotyledonous, a fact about which, there appears to me to be no doubt, its immediate affinity will be with Papaveracece, with some genera of which it agrees in the very compound nature of the fruit, from the apex of which the sessile stigmas radiate, in the presence of narcotic principles and a milky secretion, and in the great breadth of the placentee. Nymphceacece are also akin to Magnoliacece, with which they agree in the imbricated nature of the petals, sepals, and stamens; to Nelumbiacece their close resemblance is evident; with Ranunculaceae, they are connected through the tribe of Paeonies, with which they agree in the dilated state of the disk, which, in Paeonia papaveracea and Moutan, frequently rises as high as the top of the ovaries, and in the indefinite number of their hypogynous stamens; but in Ranunculaceae, the placentas only occupy the edge of each of (he carpels, of which the fruit is made up ; so that in Nigella, in which the carpels co-here in the centre, the seeds are attached to the axis, while in Nymphceaceae, the placentae occupy the whole surface of each side of the individual carpels, of which the fruit is composed. But if such are the undoubted immediate affinities of Nymphceaceae, it is certain that some strong analogies exist between them and HydrocJiaraceae, to the vicinity of which they are referred by those who believe them to be Monocotyledonous. Taking Nelumbiaceae for a transition order, I hey have some relation to Alismac&ie , the only Monocotyledonous order, in which there is an indefinite number of carpels in each flower, and to Hydrocharaceae , with which they agree in the structure, though not the vernation, of their leaves, and their habit. An analogy of a similar nature with this last may be also traced between them, and the monopetalous sub-order, Menyantheae."

Geographical Distribution. It is commonly remarked respecting aquatic plants generally, that the same species are found in the most distant regions. The Nymphoeaceae form an exception to this law, each species being confined to a comparatively limited range of territory. Four, according to De Candolle, (System Veget.) are natives of Europe; 2 of Egypt; 2 of Siberia; 9 of the warmer parts of Asia and Japan: 9 of North America; and 1 of the Cape, with the exception of which, they are almost unknown in the southern hemisphere. Mr. Royle well remarks, that India may be considered their head quarters, as species of all the genera, except Nuphar, (the English yellow water lily) are found in it; namely, Nymphcea, Euryale, and Bare lay a-, and of Nymphcea a greater number than in any other country. Of this last genus the same species, with the exception of the red varieties of N. rubra, are found in every part of India, from the extreme south to the most northern confines.

Properties and Uses. These beautiful aquatics have justly been the admiration of mankind in all countries where they grow, from the earliest ages ; while their habitation in the midst of cool and placid waters, combined with the chaste whiteness of their flowers, have tended to clothe them, in their estimation, with imaginary properties : for from what other source could have sprung the belief, that plants, whose sensible properties are essentially tonic, should be endowed with sedative, cooling, and anti-aphrodisiac powers of such intensity, as to cause total indifference to sexual intercourse, or even absolute sterility. That such an opinion is purely imaginary, may I think be safely inferred, from the estimation in which both the roots and seeds of nearly all the species, natives of this and the adjoining countries, are held, as affording a wholesome and nourishing food. In this country the capsules and seed together are prepared in various ways, sometimes pickled, sometimes stewed or made into curry, and sometimes, the seed are ground and mixed with meal to make cakes. The underground stems, or roots, as they are commonly called, are composed in great part of fecula, better known, perhaps, under the names of Starch, and Arrow root, and are used both as aliment and medicine. In Africa we learn from the Flora Senegambiae that the fruit is equally sought after by the inhabitants, and by the wild animals of the jungles. The Authors remark, it is surprising to see, at the season of their maturity, the numbers of women and children returning towards evening, to the village, laden with these fruits, which they lay in the sun until they dry and open naturally.' The seed are prepared for use by simply boiling, and then quickly torrifying them, by which they acquire a very agreeable taste. The farinacious roots are equally used for food, being first roasted among the cinders, when they acquire a taste resembling potatoes.

Dr. Ainslie, in his Materia Indica (Vol. 2, page 234) suggests, in opposition to the opinion of the late Dr. Rottler, that the Nedel Kalung, meaning, nedel root, is not a species of Nymphcea, but of Menyanthes, M. indica, a conjecture, to which he is led " by the name of the last mentioned plant being according to Rheede, Nedel-ambel" I have endeavoured to ascertain how far this conjecture is correct, and find reason to believe that he is partly right, as nedel is a name by which the Menyanthes is known here: ambel, on the other hand, is applied to a very different plant, namely, the Damasonit/m indicum, equally an aquatic, but differing in every other respect, and having no one point of affinity beyond growing in water : a striking instance of the little faith to be reposed in native names, since Dr. Rottler's proverbial accuracy, and extensive knowledge of Indian plants, scarcely leaves room to doubt, that the plant shown to him as the Nedel was truly a Nymphcea,

Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1.djvu

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1, 2. Leaf and flower of Nymphoea rubra—natural size.

3. Side view of the stamens.

4. Front view, the stamens laid back to show the stigmas. 5. Stamen detached. 6. Ovary cut vertically, showing the numerous cells, and the ovules, attached to the broad placentary surface, covering the whole surface of the partitions.

Observations.—This plate, though correct so far as size. it goes, does not carry the analysis of the order quite far enough, a dissection of the seed is required to complete it. This defect arose from its being overlooked at the time of making the drawing, several years ago, and my inability to get sufficiently ripe fruit, when preparing the figure for the press.