Flowers with a true perianth free from the ovary (superior ovary), usually hermaphrodite.
Characters.—Perianth inferior, petaloid, in six pieces, or, in consequence of the cohesion of the claws, tubular; the pieces generally involute in aestivation. Stamens six; anthers mostly turned outwards. Ovary three-celled; many seeded; style trifid or three-parted; stigma undivided. Capsule generally divisible into three pieces; sometimes with a loculicidal dehiscence. Seeds with a membranous testa; albumen dense, fleshy. (R. Brown.)
Properties.—Several violently poisonous alkaloids (veratria, colchicina, sabadillina, and jervina) are peculiar to this order. They exist in combination with organic acids. These bases, as well perhaps as resins, are the active principles of the order. The Melanthaceae are acrids (emetics, purgatives, diuretics, and errhines) and sedatives (see vol. i. p. 258). When acting as poisons, they are called narcotico-acrids (see vol. i. p. 234).