Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/617

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BARBERRIES.

enough have been given to show that, at least in the history of those forms cognate with our own barberry, there are presented not a few curious and perhaps significant analogies with the evolution PSM V45 D617 Berberis vulgaris.jpgFig. 3.—Berberis vulgaris. Vertical section of flower: B, bract; Sp, sepal; P, petal; N, N, nectar glands; F, filament; A, anther; V, valve; Sg, stigma; H, zone of hairs; O, ovule. of a group of organic species subjected to the diverse influences of changing environment.

Leaving now the matter of names, let us proceed to consider the plant itself, and, so far as may be, something of its history.

The barberry's place in Nature is expressed botanically by saying that it belongs to the principal genus of the family Berberidaceæ, and is thus near of kin to our native "twinleaf" (Jeffersonia), "cohosh" (Caulophyllum), and "May apple" (Podophyllum). As will be seen by referring to Fig. 3, the floral structure is, like theirs, notably simple and regular, and the parts are all distinct, thus recalling the general features to be found in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceæ) and the moonseed family (Menispermaceæ). It evidently is of the same ancestral stock as these, since they all agree so closely in fundamental plan, despite innumerable differences in matters of comparatively small detail. Moreover, the intense yellow color so generally characteristic of the tissues of Berberidaceæ, depending, as is well known, upon the presence of the bitter alkaloid berberine (C20H17NO4), occurs also to some extent in the families mentioned. Hence the structural evidences of consanguinity gain something of confirmation in the fact that we find the same substance which renders various species of Berberis useful for medicinal and tinctorial purposes imparting its tonic properties and intense yellow to the "goldthread" (Coptis) and "yellowroot" (Xanthorrhiza) among Ranunculaceæ, and the "calumba root" (Jateorrhiza) of Menispermaceæ.

In the old days of belief in "signatures," this yellowness of the barberry's tissues was taken as a sure indication that here must be a sovereign remedy for jaundice, and accordingly a decoction of the bark was in high repute as a specific for that disease. While this notion has, of course, long been banished to the limbo of imaginary medicine, yet, in the modern practice, decoctions, infusions, and the fluid extract of barberry bark, as well as the isolated alkaloid berberine, have a recognized tonic value. It is an aqueous extract prepared in India from the sliced roots and branches of the so-called "ophthalmic barberry" {Berberis ly-