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Class X. DECANDRIA. Order II. DIGYNIA.
Petals five, with claws. Capsules cylindric, one-celled.
The root is perennial, firm, divided, and beset with numerous fibres; the stems are slender, smooth, branched, upright, jointed, of a glaucous, or sea-green color, and rise from one to two feet in height; the leaves upon the stem are short, linear, and placed in pairs at the joints; those of the young shoots are numerous, narrow, pointed, smooth, entire, and of the same color as the stalk; the flowers stand single at the extremities of the branches, and are of a deep crimson color; the calyx is tubular, cylindrical, divided at the mouth into five segments, and surrounded at the base with four oval pointed squamiform scales; the corolla consists of five petals, which at the limb are roundish, patent, scolloped, fringed, and attached to the common receptacle by long narrow claws; the filaments are ten, longer than the calyx, tapering, spreading towards the top, and furnished with oblong compressed anthers; the germen is oval; the styles are two, slender, longer than the filaments, and their stigma turned or curled outwards; the capsule is cylindrical, and contains many small roundish seeds.
This fragrant and beautiful plant is said to be a native of Italy, but is now cultivated by the florists in most parts of the civilized
world, chiefly as an ornament to the flower-garden. It has been known to grow wild in several parts of our country, on old walls and in the crevices of rocks; but the flowers which are pharmaceutically employed are usually produced in gardens, where they become extremely luxuriant, and by the various arts of culture those beautiful varieties have been produced which are so highly esteemed under the name of carnations.
Medical Properties and Uses. The flowers of the Clove Pink, which is the part directed for medical use, has an agreeable, pleasant, aromatic smell, somewhat allied to that of clove spice; their taste is slightly bitter and subastringent. It can be safely employed in the treatment of dropsies, as it possesses considerable diaphoretic and diuretic properties. Rectified spirits digested on the flowers receives a much paler tincture than watery liquors, but extracts the whole of their active properties. In the process of distillation or evaporation spirit elevates much less than water; the spirituous extract retaining a considerable portion of the fine smell of the flowers as well as their taste, and the color purplish like that of the watery extract. In former times the flowers of this plant were supposed to have considerable effect upon the nervous system, and were therefore recommended in headache, faintings, palpitations of the heart, convulsions, tremors, &c., and were employed to a considerable extent in the treatment of malignant and putrid fevers. At present, however, they are valued mostly for their sensible qualities, and the syrupus caryophylli rubri, which is the only officinal preparation admitted into either the London or the United States Pharmacopæia. But its fine color and pleasant flavor renders it a very useful article in the preparation of other medicines.
Class VI. HEXANDRIA. Order III. Trigygnia,
The root is perennial, consisting of a solid double succulent bulb, covered with a brown membranous coat; the leaves appear in the spring, and are numerous, radical, spear-shaped, one or two of which are much narrower than the others; the flowers are large, of a purplish color, and rise immediately from the root upon a long naked tube ; calyx none; the corolla is monopetalous, and divided into six lance-shaped, large, erect segments, of a pale purple color; the filaments are six, tapering, white, much shorter than the corolla, and furnished with erect, pointed yellow anthers; the germen is lodged at the root, from which issue three slender styles, reflexed at the top, and terminated by simple pointed stigmas; the capsule is three-lobed, divided into three cells, containing numerous small globular seeds, which do not ripen until the succeeding spring, when the capsule rises above the ground upon a strong peduncle.
Colchicum Autumnale is a native of the temperate parts of Europe, where it grows wild in moist meadows. Various attempts have been made to introduce its culture into this country, but with no very encouraging success. The officinal portions are the bulb or cormus, and the seeds. The root, botanically speaking, consists of the fibres which are attached to the base of the bulb. The flowers have been found to possess similar virtues with the bulb and seeds, but have not been adopted in the pharmacopeias.
Medical Properties and Uses. Colchicum Autumnale is one of the most active medicines ever introduced into medical practice. It possesses diaphoretic, diuretic, cathartic, and emetic properties. Baron Stoerck asserts, that on cutting the fresh root into slices, the acrid particles emitted from it irritated the nostrils, fauces, and breast, and that the ends of the fingers with which it had been held, became for a time benumbed; that even a single grain in a crumb of bread, taken internally, produced a burning heat and pain in the stomach and bowels, urgent strangury, tenesmus, colic pains, cephalalgia, hiccup, &c. From this account we need not be surprised that we find so many melancholy instances recorded where it has proved a fatal poison both to man and brute animals; also of its effects upon children, who have accidentally partaken of the bulbs, in whom it occasioned the symptoms alone. Two boys, after eating this plant, which they found growing in a meadow, died in great agony. Violent symptoms have been produced by taking three of the flowers; the seeds also will produce the same effect. Deer, oxen, and other animals have fallen a sacrifice to this poison; and according to Stoerck two drachms of the root killed a dog in thirteen hours, and upon opening its abdomen the stomach and bowels were found to be greatly inflamed, or in a gangrenous state. When applied to the skin it produces similar effects as when taken into the stomach, which must depend on its being absorbed and taken into the circulation.