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Page:Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1.djvu/29

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ILLUSTRATIONS OF INDIAN BOTANY

herbaceous forms, I formerly remarked (Madras Journal No. 11) that when found within the tropics they almost invariably occupy the highest hills, where reduction of temperature, consequent on great elevation, compensates for low latitude; that the shrubby forms partake more of the tropical character, since they are found, sparingly it is true, in most tropical countries. I thence inferred, and have as yet seen no reason to alter my opinion, that wherever we meet with the former within the tropics, we may feel well assured, we have attained an elevation sufficient to place us beyond the influence of what has been called the 'fever zone' or range of jungle fever, so commonly met with in the belts of jungle, which embrace the more elevated slopes of all our high hills; and that their absence on the Shevaroys, were we otherwise unacquainted with the fact, might be adduced as an evidence, that they had not attained that degree of elevation, and ought therefore to have been carefully examined, before their perfect salubrity and suitableness for a sanatarium was proclaimed.

Properties and Uses. In Europe many species of this order are deservedly held in high esteem as affording some of the finest ornaments of the flower garden, among which may be mentioned, the Ranunculus Asiaticus and Aconitum Napellus; the former, supposed to be of Persian origin, and probably of easy introduction, from its native country, into India. Should this be attempted, I may here mention, that it requires to bring to perfection a deep rich moderately humid soil—As an arbour either the Clematis Gouriana, or the one here figured might be used. The latter would certainly form an exceedingly rich and handsome one, from the snow-white interior surfaces of its numerous large flowers contrasting finely with its dark green foliage, but it also will require for its successful culture, a very rich and deep vegetable soil, with abundance of water. The former may perhaps, prove of easier culture while its more numerous, clustered, flowers might compensate for their smaller size.

Remarkable as the family likeness existing among these plants, as traced in their geographical distribution may appear, it is even more strongly indicated in their properties. Of these, so far as the species of lower India are concerned, nothing seems known: none of them are represented by Rheede, in his Hortus Malabaricus, nor is there any of them mentioned by Ainslie in his Materia Medica of Hindoostan ; while Roxburgh confines his notice, of the few he knew, to their botanical description. To the Natives of this part of the country, they seem utterly unknown, as I have not been able to trace even a name, appertaining to any one species, among them.

It would however be injudicious to infer from this general silence regarding the Indian representatives of this curious tribe of plants, that they are inert, while nearly all the other members of the family are so remarkable for the active properties with which they are endowed. 'Acridity, Causticity, and Poison' are emphatically said to be 'the general characters of this suspicious order.' The acrid property is, however, for the most part confined to the recent plant, the principle on which it depends being so volatile that simple drying, infusion in water, or boiling, dissipates it, though in the recent state, it is so active that many species excite, when applied to the skin, violent inflammation, followed by blisters: a purpose for which they were much employed, previous to the general introduction of Flies, since which they have been nearly expelled from medical practice as epispastics, owing to the virulence of their operation, and consequent liability to induce obstinate ulcers. When taken internally in sufficient doses, several species of Clematis produce all the effects of poisoning, but have notwithstanding been employed in several diseases, and are said to afford valuable remedies, a statement, which may be doubted as nearly the whole tribe, with a few exceptions, has fallen into disuse as medicinal agents; Hellebore being almost the only one of the evacuants retained, and that, from the uncertainty of its operation, is seldom used. The roots however, of Hydrastis canadensis, and Coptis tri-foliata (golden thread) are used in North America as tonics, and Dr. Wallich informs us, that Coptis teeta, Wall, is similarly employed in Assam. The genus Aconitum appears to be that in which the poisonous properties are most prominently developed, the roots of Aconitum ferox, Wall, or Bish or Bikh of the Nepalese, ranking among the most virulent of vegetable poisons, while those of A. Napellus (the common monkshood of English gardens) are so active, as to have caused numerous accidents to Man, and are employed by the Swiss, mixed with food, to poison the Wolves which so generally infest their country. Might not the Nepaul one, which retains in drying its active properties, be similarly