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Page:Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1.djvu/76

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ILLUSTRATIONS OF INDIAN BOTANY.


The calyx in this order consists of only two sepals, and these so caducous, that for the most part, they drop nearly as soon as expanded. The carolla is composed of 4 petals, or of twice or three times that number, but always of some multiple of four; the stamens in like manner, though generally numerous, are always some multiple of four, rarely only eight, forming four bundles, one inserted at the base of each petal; the anthers are two-celled, erect, opening within. Ovary solitary, stigmas sessile, or with a short style, two, or many, and in the latter case, stellate on the flat apex of the ovarium. Fruit one-celled, with parietal placentae, equalling the number of the stigmas: albumen between fleshy and oily, at the base of which, is a minute straight embryo, with piano convex cotyledons.

Affinities. The nearest affinity of this order is with Ranunculacece, from which, in some extreme cases, it is scarcely to be distinguished except by the difference of the juices, which in this is milky, yellow, or white, and narcotic, in that aqueous and acrid.

Essential Character. Polypetalous, polyandrous, anthers inateĀ : ovary wholly superior: carpels combined into a solid fruit, with more placentas than one. Juice milky, leaves alternate exstipulate.

Geographical Distribution. This, as already remarked is so completely an extra-tropical order that, with the exception of Argemone Mexicana a naturalized plant, not one is found on the plains of India. Europe is their principal seat, being there found in all directions, and containing nearly two-thirds of the whole order.

Properties and Uses. The narcotic is the predominating principle of this order. The seeds however of Argemone Mexicana are said to possess emetic properties, and are used in South America and the West Indies as substitutes for Ipecacuana. Other accounts however state that they are powerfully narcotic, especially when smoked with tobacco. Whether these opposite statements are founded on carefully ascertained facts, and can be reconciled, remains to be proved. The juice of this plant is employed in this country as a remedy for cutanious diseases, and is said to be a very effectual one. I confess I have never either prescribed the remedy myself, nor seen it employed by others. The native doctors also employ it as a remedy for ophthalmia; applied, according to my information, over the tarsus and eyelids, but according to Dr. Ainslie's statement, dropped into the eye. The oil, extracted from the seed, is, like the juice, considered a useful application in cutanious diseases, but probably merely acts as an emolient application like any other sweet oil.

The medicinal properties of the juice of the poppy are too well known to require notice here, but a few remarks may be made respecting this substance in a commercial point of view.

The Opium Poppy, though not a native of India, is now so very extensively cultivated in some of her provinces, those namely of Bahar, Benares, and Malwa, that nearly three millions of pounds of Opium are annually raised in these districts, producing a return to the country of above two and a half millions sterling. This kind of cultivation would, I believe, be made to occupy a much wider range of country were the operations of the agriculturist unrestricted. It has already been tried on the Neilgherries, to a small extent it is true, but sufficient to ascertain the fitness of the soil and climate for the production of Opium of a marketable quality. Many parts of Mysore might equally be appropriated to its cultivation, were the extension of the production of this drug either desirable or necessary. Neither the one or the other however is the case; the more so, now, that the China market is shut against its introduction: a prohibition, likely to inflict ruin and destruction on thousands of persons engaged in the growth and traffic of this much coveted drug, of which there is now, a surplus in hand sufficient to supply the wants of the country for years to come.

This is not the place to discuss the question of its effects on the human constitution, but I may observe in passing, that in this as in many other disputed points, the truth seems to lie between the contending parties. Those who view Opium as the most deleterious of intoxicating substances, of course form their opinion from looking to extreme cases only, but which, if compared with the extreme effects arising from the unrestrained indulgence in the use of spirits, show but too clearly, that the one is nearly as bad as the other, though the latter, from being so much more common among us, and its effects better understood, is less