The British Cyclopaedia: Berberideæ. The Barberry Family.

The British Cyclopaedia
of the arts, sciences, history, geography, literature, natural history and biography; copiously illustrated by engravings on wood and steel by eminent artists.
Edited by Charles F. Partington, professor of mechanical philosphy, author of various works on natural and experimental philosophy, &c., assisted by authors of eminence in the various departments of science.
Complete in ten volumes.
Volume VI.
Natural history.
London: WM. S. Orr and Co., Amen Corner, Paternoster Row.
A natural order of dicotyledonous plants, containing seven known genera and forty-seven species. It is nearly allied to the Menispermaceae, or coculus tribe. The essential characters of the order are: — sepals or leaves of the calyx, three, four, or six, deciduous, in a double series, accompanied by scales; petals hypogynous, equal in number with the sepals, and opposite to them; stamens equal in number to the petals, and opposite to them; filaments short; anthers oblong, two-celled, opening by valves; ovary solitary, one celled; style oblique; stigma orbicular; fruit, a berry or capsule, containing from one to three seeds.

The plants in this order are shrubs or herbs with erennial roots, found in temperate and cold climates in both hemispheres. Species have been met with in Europe, Asia, North and South America, but none have as yet been detected in Africa or the South Sea Islands. They are propagated by cuttings, layers, and seeds. Their properties will be best shown by a few examples.

The chief and most interesting genus is Berberis, whence the name of the order has originated. Berberis vulgaris, the common barberry or pepperidge bush, is common in the hedges an woods of Great Britain. It presents a beautiful appearance in spring, when covered with its yellow clusters of flowers. As the season advances, these are succeeded by bunches of red oblong-shaped berries, which are familiar to all. These berries have a sour taste, owing to the malic acid which they contain. They enter into the composition of various sweetmeats and tarts, and when prepared with sugar they form an excellent jelly. When pickled in vinegar, they are used for garnishing dishes. In consequence of their acidity and astringency they are refused by birds. They form a grateful cooling drink in fevers, and are said to be useful in biliary fluxes and internal haemorrhages. The leaves of the barberry are yellowish or bluish-green, and possess a considerable degree of acidity. The stem and bark are very astringent, and are employed in dyeing; the root resembles that of the pomegranate: it is bitter and styptic, and is used in Poland, for the purpose of imparting a yellow colour to leather. Cows, sheep, and goats eat the plant, while horses refuse it. Varieties are cultivated, with purple, white, yellow, black, and seedless fruit.

A singular irritability has been observed in the filaments of the barberry. If their inner side be touched with a pointed instrument, such as a needle, they immediately contract, move towards the stigma, and scatter the polien if it is ripe. A peculiar fungus also grows on the plant, which is said to be prejudicial to corn growing near it, by causing blight or mildew. (See article Æcidium.)

All the species of barberries are more or less ornamental. The Berberis aristata is a hardy evergreen shrub, found in Nepal. Berberis tinctoria, a native of India, yields a yellow colouring matter, which is used in dyeing. Berberis Siberica (Siberian barberry), is Berberis epimedium, Siberica. a curious species known among the Mongol Tartars under the name of Yellow-wood, and applied by them both to superstitious and medicinal purposes. It is a native of the Altai mountains, growing in the crevices of the highest rocks, and was introduced into Britain by Sir Joseph Banks in 1790. It produces grey or ash-coloured berries, possessing acid properties. The barberries with pinnated leaves, generally shrubs of great beauty and interest, have been lately referred to a separate genus denominated Mahonia. Leontice, or Caulophyllum thalictroides, another plant of this order, is remarkable as being an instance of a plant in which the seeds are not inclosed in any covering whatever. Mandiana domestica is an elegant shrub, found in Japan. Epimedium Alpinum, or Alpine bar renwort is a plant of the barberry tribe, which is found in a few places in Britain. It is a small elegant plant, with handsome dark red flowers, which grows in mountain thickets, and furnishes a considerable quantity of honey.

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