Gardeners Dictionary: Phytolacca

Gardeners Dictionary:
containing The Best and Newest Methods of Cultivating and Improving The Kitchen, Fruit, Flower Garden, and Nursery; As also for Performing the Practical Parts of Agriculture: Including The Management of Vineyards, With the Methods of Making and Preserving Wine, According to the present Practice of The most skilful Vignerons in the several Wine Countries in Europe.

Together with Directions for propagating and improving, From real Practice and Experience, All sorts of Timber Trees.

The Eight Edition,
Revised and Altered according to the latest System of Botany; and Embellished with several Copper-Plates, which were not in some former Editions.

By Philip Miller, F. R. S.
Gardener tothe Worshipdul Company of Apothecaries, at their Botanic Garden in Chelsea, and Member of the Botanic Academy at Florence.

Printed for the Author;

(Lontoo 1768)

PHYTOLACCA. Tourn. Inst. R. H. 299. tab. 154. Lin. Gen. Plant. 521. [This plant is so called of -----, a plant, and Lacca, a colour, because a red coloured lacca is made thereof.] American Nightshade.

The flower hath no petals according to some, or no empalement according to others, for the cover of the parts of generation being coloured, is by latter termed petals; there are fice of these which are roundish, concave, spreading open, and permanent. It has for the most part ten stamina which spread open, and are the same length as the petals, terminated by roundish summits, and ten compressed orbicular germen joined together in their inside, but are divided on their cutside, upon which fit ten very short styles which are reflexed, and crowned by single stigmas. The germen afterward turns to an orbicular depressed berry, with ten longitudinal deep furrows, having ten cells, each containing a singre smooth seed.

This genus of plants is ranged in the fifth section of Lonnæus's tenth class, which includes those plants whole flowers have ten stamina and ten styles.

The SPECIES are,

1. PHYTOLACCA (Vulgaris) floribus decandris decagynis. Hort. Cliff. 117. Phytolacca with flowers having ten stamina and ten styles. Phytolacca Americana, majori fructu. Tourn. Inst. 229. American Nightshade with large fruit, commonly called Virginian Poke, or Porke Physic.

2. PHYTOLACCA (Mexicana) foliis ovato-lanceolatis, floribus sessilibus. Phytolacca with oval spear-shaped leaves, and flowers sitting close to the stalks. Phytolacca Mexicana, baccis sessilibus. Hort. Elth. 318. Mexican Phytolacca, whose berries grow close to the stalk.

3. PHYTOLACCA (Icosandra) floribus icosandris decagynis. Lin. Sp. 631. Phytolacca with many stamina, which are fixed to the receptacle. Phytolacca spicis florum longissimis, radice annuá. tab. 207. Phytolacca with the longest spikes of flowers, and an annual root.

4. PHYTOLACCA (Dioica) floribus dioicis, caule arboreo ramosa. Phytolacca with a tree-like stem, which has male and female flowers on different plants.

The first sort grows naturally in Virginia, and also in Spain and Portugal; this hath a very thick fleshy root, as large as a man's leg, divided into several thick fleshy fibres, which run deep in the ground. When the roots are become large, they send out three or four stalks, which are herbaceous, as large as a good walking-stick, of a purple colour, and rise the height of six or seven feet, dividing into many branches at the top, garnished with leaves about five inches long, and two inches and a half broad; they are rounded at their base, but terminate in a point, and are placed without order, having short foot-stalks; they are of a deep geen, and in the autumn change to a purplish colour before they fall off. From the joints of the branches and at their divisions, come out the foot-stalks of the flowers, which are about five inches long; the lower part is naked, but the upper half sustains a number of flowers ranged on each side like common Currants. Each flower stands upon a foot-stalk half an inch long; the flowers have five purplish petals, within which stand the ten stamina and styles. After the flowers are faded, the germen turns to a depressed berry with ten furrows, having ten cells, filled with smooth seeds. It flowes in July and August, and in warm seasons the berries ripen in autumn.

It may be propagated by sowing the seeds in the spring upon a bed of light earth, and when the plants come up, they should be transplanted into the borders of large gardens, allowing them space to grow, for they must not be planted too near other plants, left they overbear and destroy them, as they grow to be very large, especially if the soil is good. When they have taken root, they will require no farther care but only to clear them from weeds, and in the autumn they will produce their flowers and fruit; but when the frost comes on, it will cut down the stems of these plants which constantly decay in the winter, but their roots will abide in the ground, and come up again the succeeding spring.

The roots of this plant will continue many years, especially if they are planted in a dry soil, for wet in winter standing about the roots will cause them to rot; and sometimes the frost in very severe winters will kill them, if the surface of the ground is not covered with mulch, but in our ordinary winters they are never injured.

Parkinson says, that the inhabitants of North America make use of the juice of the root as a familiar purge; two spoonfuls of the juice will works strongly. Of late there have been some quacks, who pretend to cure cancers with this herb, but I have not met with one instance of its having been serviceable in that disorder. The inhabitants of North America boil the young shoots of this plant, and eat it like Spinach. The juice of the berries stain paper and linen of a beautiful purple colour, but it will not last long. If there could be a method of fixing the dye, it might be very useful.

The vignerons in Portugal, for many years made use of the juice of the berries of this plant to mix with their red port wines when they made it, which gave a deep colour to the wine; and when there was too much of this juice added, it gave a very disagreeable taste to the wine; and complaint of this practice having been communicated to his Portuguese Majesty, he gave orders that the stemps of the Phytolacca should be cut down and destroyed before they produced berries, to prevent the use of this juice for the future, in order to gain a better reputation to the wine of that country. Some of this unmixed wine I have drank, I found it much more palatable and lighter than any port wine I had ever before tasted; but whether this is still continued in that country, I cannot say.

The second sort grows naturally in the Spanish West-Indies; the late Dr. Houston found it growing in great plenty at La Vera Cruz, where the inhabitants constantly used it for their table. This plant is biennial, seldom continuing longer than two years; and when it flowers and produces plenty of seeds the first year, the plants frequently die before the folloring spring. This hath an herbaceous stalk about two feet high, about the size of a man's finger, dividing at the top into two or three short branches, garnished with ovalspear-shaped leaves near six inches long, and almost three broad, drawing to a point at each end; they have a strong longitudinal midrib, and several transverse veins running from that to the sides, of a deep green, and have foot-stalks an inch and a half long, placed without order on the stalk. The footstalks of the flowers come out from the side of the branches opposite to the leaves; they are seven or eight inches long; the lower part, about two inches in length, is naked; the remaining part is garnished with white flowers sitting close to the stalks, which are white, having a blush of purple in the middle, each being cut into five segments almost to the bottom, and have from eight to fourteen stamina, and ten styles in each flower, which are succeeded by flat berries, having ten deep furrows divided into so many cells, each containing one or two smooth seeds. This flowers in July and August, and the seeds ripen late in the autumn.

The third sort grows naturally in Malabar, from whence I received the seeds; this plant is annual, always perishing soon after it has perfected seeds, so that in this particular it differs greatly from the first; this rises with an herbaceous stalk from two to three feet high, which has several longitudinal furrows, and changes the latter part of summer to a purplish colour. It divides at the top into three or four branches, garnished with spear-shaped leaves six or seven inches long, and almost three broad in the middle, drawing to a point at each end; they are of a deep green, and have short foot-stalks; sometimes they stand alternately, at others they are placed opposite, and are frequently oblique to the foot-stalk. The foot-stalks of the flowers come out from the side of the branches opposite to the leaves; they are nine or ten inches long, the lower part being naked as in the other sorts, but this is much shorter than the other species; the other part is garnished with larger flowers than those of the other sorts; they are white on their inside, of an herbaceous colour on their edges, and purplish on their ourside, standing upon short foot-stalks; these have not always the same number of stamina, some of them have but eight, and others nine or eleven, which are terminated by roundish summits. These flowers are succeeded by orbicular, compressed, soft berries divided by deep furrows on their outside into ten cells, each containing one smooth shining black seed; the racemus of flowers is very narrow at the top, where it is commonly inclined. This flowers in July and August, and the seeds ripen in the autumn, soon after which the plant decays.

The berries of this sort are very succulent, and their juice stains paper and linen of a beautiful purple colour, but it is not permanent.

These two sorts are not so hardy as the first, so their seeds should be sown upon a moderate hot-bed in the spring, and when the plants are fit to remove, they should be transpalnted to another hot-bed to bring them forward, observing to shade them from the sun till they have taken new root; after which they should be treated in the same way as other tender exotic plants, and the beginning of July they may be transplanted out upon a warm boder, or into pots filled with light rich earth, and shaded from the sun till they have taken new root; after which they will require to be duly watered in dry weather, and kept clean from weeds. As these plants perfect their seeds every aurumn, they may be easily preserved.

The fourth sort grows naturally in Mexico, from whence the seeds were sent to Paris some years past, and they have been sent to Spain many years since; for there are growing in some of the gardens, several trees which are now upward of twenty feet high; and I have been crefibly informed, there are some of the trees which produce male, and othrs female flowers only; but as the plant in the Chelsea Garden has not as yeat produced any flowers which have opened perfectly, so I cannot from my own observations determine this.

The plant hath a strong weoody stem as large as a man's leg, which sends out many irregular branches; garnished with ovat spear-shaped leaves six hinches long, and almost three broad, having large midribs, which are of a purple colour when the leaves are fully grown; the flowers are produced at the base of the foot-stalks of the leaves, in a racemus like those of theo ther species; but as those on the plant in the Chelsea Garden were produced late in the season, so they dropped off before they opened.

This species may be propagated by cuttings during the summer months, which should be planted in pots filled with light earth and plunged into a moderated hot-bed, covering the posts with hand-glasses to exclude the air from the cuttings, and duly shading them from the sun; in about five or six weeks they will put out roots, when they may be each planted into a separate small pot, and plunged into the bed again, shading them daily till they have taken new root; then they should be gradually inured to the open air, where they may remain till the end of September, when they must be removed into a moderate stove for the winter season, for they will not live through the winter in a green-house, unless it is a very warm one.

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