Statice caroliniana. Marsh Mosemary.

Botanical name: 

Pl. 25. Statice caroliniana. THE class of vegetables, denominated maritime, or sea shore plants, are constituted to occupy extensive tracts of ground, which, from their impregnation with sea salt, are incapable of sustaining the life and growth of other species. The muriate of soda, if poured at the roots of the most vigorous plants belonging to a fresh soil, will often destroy them in a short time. Few forest trees of the temperate zones can grow in marshes where their roots are wholly exposed to the access of salt water. Yet such is the wise arrangement of nature, that this substance, which proves a poison to most vegetables, is converted into the food and necessary stimulus of the rest. Maritime plants flourish alike in places visited by the tide, and those impregnated by the salt springs of the interior. The degree in which they require the presence of the mineral is various, some growing upon the beach, where the earth is saturated with salt, and others at the extreme edge of marshes, where the impregnation is much less powerful. With a few exceptions, they cannot long be cultivated in fresh earth, but soon decay when removed from their native marshes.

Maritime plants derive a peculiar character from their place of growth, which distinguishes them even when dry from other vegetables. The salt with which they are impregnated crystallizes on their surface in dry weather; and deliquesces so as to render them damp and supple, when the atmosphere is moist. These plants are troublesome in an herbarium from the facility with which they contract moisture from the atmosphere, and communicate it to the adjacent papers. The hay cut upon salt marshes often becomes extremely damp, and would be entirely spoiled, were it not for the antiseptic and preservative quality of the salt. The barilla of commerce is obtained by the combustion of maritime vegetables.

Many of these plants are thick and fleshy in their mode of growth, and differ remarkably in this respect from their co-species on dry ground. This is particularly seen in Arenaria, Gerardia, Chenopodium, &c.

The vegetable which is the subject of this article is exclusively a maritime plant. It is one of the few ornamental species in our salt marshes, and is very conspicuous for its purple tops appearing among the grass in all the summer months. It varies from a few inches, to a foot and more in height.

This species has generally been considered a variety of the Statice limonium, which is a common plant in the salt marshes of Europe. Indeed, several of the maritime species of this genus approach each other so closely in their characters, that they have been considered the same by able botanists. The American plant, to which the name of Caroliniana was given by Walter in his Flora of Carolina, is distinguished from the European principally by its smaller flowers and plain or flat leaves. From the Statice Gmelini, an Asiatic species, it differs apparently still less in its general form.

The genus Statice belongs to the class Pentandria and order Pentagynia. Its natural orders are Aggregatae of Linnaeus and Plumbagines of Jussieu. It is characterized by a calyx monophyllous, plaited and scarious. Petals five with the stamens inserted in their claws. Seed one, invested with the calyx. The species Caroliniana has its scape round and panicled; its leaves obovale-lanceolate, smooth, obtuse, mucronated, and flat on the margin.

The root of this plant is perennial, large, fleshy, fusiform or branched. Several tufts of leaves and scapes are often produced from the same root. The leaves are narrow-obovate, supported by long petioles, smooth, veinless, obtuse, mucronated by the prolongation of the middle rib, level and flat on the margin, in which respect they differ from S. limonium, which is undulated. Scape round, smooth, furnished with a few scales, flexuous at top, giving off numerous branches, which end in spikes of flowers; the whole forming a large panicle. The base of each branch and flower is supported by an ovate, mucronated scale. The flowers are alternate, erect, consequently one sided in the horizontal branches; mostly in pairs, but appearing single from one expanding before the other. They grow on a short, forked peduncle, which is concealed by several sheathing scales, part of which are common to the two, and part peculiar to the upper one. The calyx is funnel shaped, five angled, the angles ciliate and ending in long acute teeth with sometimes, not always, minute intermediate teeth. The upper part of the calyx is scarious and of a pink colour. Petals spatulate, obtuse, longer than the calyx, pale bluish purple. Stamens inserted in the claws of the petals, anthers heart shaped. Germ small, obovate, with five ascending styles shorter than the stamens. Seed oblong, invested with the persistent calyx.

The root, which is the officinal part of the Marsh Rosemary, is one of the most intense and powerful astringents in the vegetable materia medica. It communicates to the mouth an highly austere and astringent taste, combined with a good deal of bitterness. Few vegetable substances, when chemically treated, give more distinct and copious evidence of the presence of both tannin and gallic acid. The sulphate of iron strikes a fine purple colour with the solution, and soon deposits a precipitate, which, on exposure to the air, becomes of an inky blackness. Gelatin also throws down a copious, whitish, insoluble precipitate. Resin hardly exists in this root, nor any thing else exclusively soluble in alcohol. The impregnation with sea salt is readily made obvious.

Dr. Mott, Professor of Surgery in the University of New York, has published an interesting and valuable investigation of the properties of this plant in 1806. He informs us that the astringency, indicated by the sulphate of iron, was greater in the tincture than in the infusion under experiments precisely similar; from which it may be inferred, that alcohol is a better solvent for this root than water. He also found the cold infusion more powerful than the hot, a circumstance probably to be accounted for by the escape of a part of the gallic acid by evaporation. The astringency was found fully equal to that of galls, and ink made from equal quantities of the two, similarly treated, was equal in blackness.

The Statice Caroliniana pocsesses much medicinal reputation as an astringent, and large quantities of it are annually consumed in different parts of the United States. In Boston it is regularly kept by the druggists, and larger quantities are sold, than of almost any indigenous article. It is principally sought for as a topical remedy in aphthae and other ulcerative affections of the mouth and fauces. From its astringent and antiseptic quality, it is peculiarly suited to correct the state of these local maladies, and its application is commonly followed with success. It is much better suited to such complaints than the Coptis trifolia or gold thread, with which it is frequently combined, and which is only a tonic bitter without astringency.

Dr. Baylies of Dighton, Mass. employed a decoction of the root, both internally and externally, in the Cynanche maligna, a disease which has at times been epidemic and very destructive in different parts of our country. It proved very successful not only under his own observation, but under that of other physicians in this dangerous complaint.

Dr. Mott informs us, that in the chronic stages of dysentery, after the inflammatory diathesis, great tenesmus, &c. are removed; a strong decoction of the root has restored patients to health, after various tonics and astringents had been used to no effect.

Botanical References.

Statice Caroliniana, Walter, Flora Car. 118.
Pursh, i. 212.
Nuttall, i. 206.
Statice limonium, Muhlenberg, Catalogue, 33.
Elliott, Carolina, i. 374.

Medical References.

Mott, Inaugural Dissertation.
Thacher, Disp. 345.
Baylies, Papers of the Mass. Med. Society, vol. i. 8

American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.