Cercis. Red Bud.

Botanical name: 

Fig. 150. A flowering branch of Cercis canadensis. PARTS USED.—The bark of the Cercis Canadensis, Linnaus.

Natural Order, Leguminosse, Suborder Caesalpinieae, Tribe Bauhinieae.

COMMON NAMES.—The tree is usually known as Red Bud, a name derived from the appearance in early spring of the numerous red flower buds on the naked branches.

There is another name given to it, Judas Tree, which is not so applicable. In the southern portion of Europe, the original species, Cercis Siliquastrum grows, and is also abundant in Palestine. By some means in old times it acquired the reputation of being the tree on which Judas hanged himself, and, hence, came to be known as Judas Tree. [It is needless to say that there is no authority for the statement that Judas hanged himself on the Cercis. The following trees have by different writers and tradition the same repute: The fig tree and popular tradition has it that never afterwards did the tree bear fruit; the aspen tree, and it is said that the leaves quiver and quake with their guilt to this day; the elder, which in Palestine is a good sized tree, and Maundevile states that there stood in the vicinity of Mount Sion, "The tree of Eldre, that Judas henge himself upon, for despeyr."
Of the Cercis, Gerarde (1557) says, "this is ye tree whereon Judas did hange himselfe, and not upon ye eldre, as it is said."
There is no Biblical data to support any of these traditions. St. Matthew simply states that Judas "went out and hanged himself."]
It being natural that the newly discovered tree in this country should be designated by a similar common name as the European, it was called American Judas Tree and finally the adjective being dropped, simply Judas Tree. Without the above explanation the application of the name to an exclusively American tree would certainly seem strange.

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—Red-Bud tree is usually a small tree from twenty to thirty feet high, although frequently it attains a height of fifty feet and has a stem about a foot in diameter. It is rare in Western New York, absent from New England, and occurs from Western Pennsylvania to Nebraska, south to the Gulf and southwest to Indian Territory and Texas. It reaches into greatest developement in Southern Arkansas and Eastern Texas.

The tree blossoms in the spring [April at Cincinnati.] before the leaves appear. The flowers are in axillary racemous clusters from the axes of the lower leaf scars of the last year's leaves. They are of a light red color and at the distance appearing like buds on the naked branches, have no doubt suggested the name Red-Bud tree.

Fig. 151. Petals of Cercis canadensis Fig. 152. A flower bud of Cercis canadensis. There are five to ten flowers in each cluster and these clusters are produced so thickly on the branches that the tree when in bloom is a mass of red and a conspicuous object even at a distance. The flowers have a pleasant, tart taste, and are said to have been used as pickles by the early French settlers.

The inflorescence is racemous but the peduncle is so short that without close examination the flowers would be supposed to be in umbellate clusters. The pedicles are one-half an inch long, slender smooth, and of a deep red color, the same hue as the calyx. They are articulated at the base of the flowers, hence, the flowers that do not set fruit fall away leaving the pedicles.

Fig. 153. Cercis canadensis, stamens and pistil. Fig. 154. Fruit-pods of Cercis canadensis. The calyx is cup-shaped, colored a deeper red than the petals, compressed laterally, gibbous beneath, and toothed with five small, blunt, subequal teeth. The five petals are imperfectly papilionaceous and are distinct and clawed. The two keel petals are the largest and enclose all others in the bud. They do not cohere together, but overlap and are curved, boat-shaped, enclosing the stamens and pistil. The two side petals and the banner petal are recurved, and subequal in size. [The flowers depart from the type of the usual papilionaceous flowers of the large Natural Order Leguminosae. In a true papilionaceous corolla the banner is the largest petal and encloses the others in the bud, and the two keel petals are more or less cohering along the lower margin.]

The stamens are ten, distinct [In this again the plant departs from the usual Leguminous flowers, which generally have the filaments of nine of the stamens united.] and nearly equal the keel petals in which they are enclosed. The filaments are slender, incurved, and have a small bunch of hair near the base. The anthers in the bud are of a pink color; they are introse opening by longitudinal slits. The pollen is smooth, oval, and marked with a longitudinal groove. The pistil is slender, and about the length of the stamens.

Fig. 155. Seed of Cercis canadensis. The fruit is a dry, flat, pod (legume,) about three inches long which hangs in clusters to the branches through the winter, and usually falls in the early spring. It is net-veined and has a narrow wing on the upper edge giving it the appearance of having a prominent vein along that side. It does not open while attached to the tree, but after falling, the sides separate along the lower edge, and, no doubt, the action of moisture is direct cause of the dehiscence. The seed are small, round, flattened, smooth, of a light brown color.

The leaves are orbicular cordate, four to six inches in diameter, entire, palmately seven-veined, abruptly acute at the apex, smooth, or somewhat pubescent beneath when young, dark green above, light colored beneath, and borne on leaf-stalks a couple of inches long, which at the junction with the blade are slightly enlarged and imperfectly articulated. This structure of the petiole shows that the leaf is not theoretically simple, but pinnate, consisting of a single leaflet.

BOTANICAL HISTORY.—There is another species, Cercis Siliquastrum, Linn., very similar to our species, growing in Southern Europe, in Palestine and other portions of Eastern Asia, and in Japan. This tree was known to the earliest botanist and called Siliquastrum. [As early as 1585 by Durantes an Italian botanist, and the genus was established under this name by Tournefort, (Institutiones Rei Herbariae, p. 646) in 1700. The name is from the Latin Siliqua, the pod of the pea, and the term is still used in botany applied to the fruit of Cruciferous plants.]

Linnaeus (1737) [Genera Plantarum, 1737, p. 125] changed the name to Cercis. Theophrastus mentioned under this name [κερκις of the Greek. Theophrastus was a Greek philosopher of Athens who lived in the fourth century before Christ. He wrote a large number of works on various subjects, one, a History of Plants, in nine volumes, being a very complete account of all that was known on the subject at that early day.] a tree of Greece, which was related to the poplars, but classed with Leguminous plants, and Linnaeus deciding that it was the Judas Tree reapplied the name Cercis to this genus.

The American plant appears to have been first collected by Vernon and Krieg in 1663 [See note * page 110.] and described by Ray. [Under the name "Ceratia agrestis Virginiana, folio rotundo minori." The genus Ceratia of old writers, now known as Ceratonia is a genus of Leguminous trees that includes the tree yielding the St. John's bread.]

It was cultivated in Europe as early as 1730, and is mentioned in all the Linnaean works. [At first under the name "Cercis foliis cordatis pubescentibus," a misleading name, as the leaves are the contrary from being "most pubescent."]

Linnaeus, 1753, [Species Plantarum, 1st edition, 1753, vol. i., p. 374.] gave it the specific name, Cercis Canadensis, under which name it has been described by most subsequent writers, and by all American authors.

The name Siliquastrum is retained for the genus by a few botanists, Adanson, (1763,) and Moench (1794,) who called the American plant Siliquastrum cordatum. [Methodus Plantas, 1794, p. 54.]

DESCRIPTION OF THE DRUG.—The inner bark of the root is the most characteristic part. It has a reddish brown color when recent, assuming a brown color upon drying. It is intensely astringent, exceeding in this respect such well known bodies as the oak and hemlock. When chewed, it puckers the mucous membranes of the mouth almost as sensibly as the green fruit of the persimmon tree, or as the seed of the fruit of black haw (Viburnum prunfolium).

Cercis Canadensis contains neither alkaloid, nor crystalline glucosid that we could discover and the only constituent of marked characteristic was the tannin that gave the astringency. This tannin was extracted by alcohol and water, and freely by glycerine. It precipitated ferric salts, blue if in dilute solution, and immediately threw all traces of gelatine from solutions containing that body. Owing to the small size of the tree, it is probable that the bark will never be of sufficient abundance to compete in the market with oak and hemlock as a tanning agent, but the richness of the tannin commends it to consideration. Should the bark of this tree come into use as a medicinal agent, it must necessarily be as a vegetable astringent. Owing to the abundance of other well known astringents, however, that may act more kindly, at least being well understood, it is improbable that Cercis will be used in medicine to any extent.

MEDICAL HISTORY AND PROPERTIES.—Cercis has never been used in medicine. The dispensatories do not honor it by a position, even Prof. King omiting it from the American Dispensatory. Neither Thomsonian nor Eclectic recognize it and Regular medicine bears no evidence of the existence of such a drug beyond a few brief notes, published by Dr. Wm. R. Smith, Sr. , [New Preparations, Geo. S. Davis, Detroit. Minn.. 1879, pp, 141, 251.] who states, "I have had over twenty years' experience in the use of Cercis Canadensis, and can, with confidence, recommend it to the profession. In all cases were an astringent [We wrote our paper on the chemistry of the drug before consulting this paper of Dr. Smith.] is indicated it will give satisfaction, and it has the advantage over all other articles of that class, that it can be given when the stomach is irritable, without increasing the trouble, making it very valuable in the treatment of the diarrhoeas peculiar to infancy. But it is in the treatment of chronic diarrhoea and dysentery that its curative action is most manifest. During the war I used it at the Post Hospital at Cairo, in the treatment of that scourge of the western army,—camp diarrhoea,—with extraordinary success." Dr. Smith mixed one fluid ounce of Cercis with three fluid ounces of aromatic syrup of rhubarb, and in chronic dysentery administered a teaspoonful every four hours. In chronic diarrhcea he administered the fluid extract of Cercis in teaspoonful doses after each discharge. He also employed Cercis in leucorrhoea and gleet.

Cercis is not employed in domestic medicine that we can establish and is not a drug of commerce.

Drugs and Medicines of North America, 1884-1887, was written by John Uri Lloyd and Curtis G. Lloyd.