Diphylleia cymosa. Umbrella leaf.

Botanical name: 

PARTS USED.—The rhizomes of Diphylleia cymosa, Michaux.

Natural Order Berberideae, Tribe Berbereae.

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—This plant is rare, and found only in rich, wet soil along the Alleghanies in the Southern States. It has a very close resemblance to the common Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), and its resemblance to this plant induced us to consider it, expecting to find similar medical properties. It is quite naturally called Southern Mayapple, but we would not encourage the name after having found it has no medical properties in common with that plant, and hence, have given as the common name, Umbrella Leaf, which is usually given in botanical works.

The plant grows one or two feet high, and has two leaves somewhat similar to those of Mayapple, but alternate instead of opposite. When mature they are a foot or more in diameter and binate, having a deep rounded sinus. The margins are lobed and toothed.

The flowers appear in May in a terminal umbelliform cyme. They are white, six petaled, six stamened, and with a solitary, one-celled pistil. The six sepals are caducous, falling as the flower expands.

The fruit is a globular blue berry, containing two to four seeds.

BOTANICAL HISTORY.—The plant was first discovered by the elder Michaux, in the year 1786, and described and illustrated with two plates (very good excepting the rhizome) in 1803. [Flora Boreali-americana, Andreas Michaux, Paris, 1803, volume i, page 203, plate 19 and 20. ]

He named it Diphylleia cymosa, [The generic name is from the Greek δις, twice, and φυλλον, a leaf from the constant two lobed leaves. The specific name is from the cymous flowers.] and the plant has been fortunate enough to escape all synonyms.

It was introduced to English horticulturists about 1812 and illustrated in Botanical Magazine (plate 1666) in 1814.

The genus Diphylleia consists as far as known of this species alone which is found in this country only in the mountains of the Southern States, but has been discovered also in the mountains of Japan.

DESCRIPTION OF THE DRUG.—The rhizome of Diphylleia is knotted and marked with large scars. Each year the plant sends up a new stem, and the old one dying off leaves a large seal-like scar, hence, each scar represents a years growth. The rhizome differs from most others in the fact that the scars are almost contiguous and that the internode of a years growth is very short.

The roots are numerous, fleshy, long, and proceed from the under portion of the rhizome.

The dried rhizome is brittle and of a light brown color externally. It is not an article of commerce, there being no demand for it.

CONSTITUENTS.—The dried rhizome was powdered and extracted with alcohol by percolation. The percolate was evaporated to a syrupy consistence and poured into cold water. A resinous material separated, of a bitterish acrid taste, resembling resin of podophyllum, but less bitter and of a more persistent acrid senega-like after-taste. The odor of this resin was less intense than that of resin of podophyllum but similar to it. It resembled that drug in color and in characteristics, nearly enough to be confused with it. Clinical investigations demonstrated, however, that it possessed no action similar to resin of podophyllum, and does not have any other medicinal property, owing to which fact we considered it unnecessary to examine it in detail. This resinous body was of complex nature, and was the characteristic constituent of the drug. Careful investigations demonstrated that no trace of an alkaloid or other interesting constituent existed in the plant.

MEDICAL HISTORY AND PROPERTIES.—Prof. B. S. Barton * preceeding ourselves had educed from the relationship of this plant that it would have properties similar to podophyllum and he writes, 1798: [Collections towards a Materia Medica of the United States, 1708, p. 31.] "I have not been able to collect a sufficient quantity of this to ascertain its powers; but judging by the taste and smell, which it must be confessed are sometimes fallacious tests, I suspect its root possesses the virtues of Mayapple."

As is shown by the following investigation this view is erroneous. From that date to the present this plant escaped attention. It was not employed by the medical profession, nor has it been used in domestic medicine, and, excepting by our review is doubtless unknown to the physician or pharmacist.

Clinical Investigation.—This was instituted in the Clinic of the Miami Medical College, of Cincinnati, by Dr. C. R. Holmes and in the Cincinnati Hospital by Prof. T. H. C. Allen, M.D. It was shown that in doses increased from three minims of the tincture once a day, to three fluid drachms three times a day, it exerted no action other than would be obtained from the alcohol present. It did not effect the respiration or temperature and did not act in the least degree as a cathartic or laxative. The resin also proved inert. In connection with the botanical relationship of the plant and the singularity in physical and other properties of its prominent constituent to the active similar substance obtained from the closely related Podophyllum peltatum, these facts are unexpected. It may be safely accepted that Diphylleia cymosa will never become prominent in medicine because of the value of any well defined constituent as we now view drugs and drug action.


*Benjamin Smith Barton was born in Lancaster, Penn., February 10, 1766. His mother died when he was eight years, and his father when he was ten years of age. He was then cared for by a family friend and at an early age exhibited a studious disposition and a love for natural history and drawing. In 1782 he was taken to Philadelphia, resided in the family of his elder brother, attended college and studied anatomy under the then celebrated Dr. William Shipper, with whom, when eighteen years of age, he began the study of medicine. In 1785 he formed one of a party of commissioners under David Rittenhouse to locate the western boundary line of Pennsylvania, and here applied himself to botanical studies, and the uses that the Indians made of medicinal plants. In 1786 he went to England and studied medicine in the University of Edinburgh, attaining some distinction, and taking the Harveian prize, 1787, the subject being Hyoscyamus niger. That year he issued from London his first publication "Observations on some parts of Natural History, to which is prefixed an account of some considerable vestiges of an ancient date, which has been discovered in different parts of North America." In 1789 he left Edinburgh University because of a dislike for two of the professors and went to Gottingen, Germany and graduated from the University founded by George II., and then returned to America. Upon his return, the trustees of the College of Philadelphia instituted a chair of Natural History and Botany electing Barton as lecturer. He was made professor of that department after the incorporation of the college with the University of Pennsylvania (1791) holding the place until his death. In 1795 he accepted the professorship of the chair of Materia Medica in the University, then made vacant by the resignation of Prof. S. C. Griffiths. When Prof. Benjamin Rush died, 1813, Barton applied for the vacant chair, practice of physic, was appointed and then resigned the professorship of Materia Medica. This position in conjunction with that of Natural History and Botany he continued to hold during his life. In 1802, he became one of the vice-presidents of the American Philosophical Society. He began the "Medical and Physical Journal" of Philadelphia in 1803 and 1804, and also issued the "Elements of Botany." In 1807 he published "Eulogy on Dr. Priestly" and "Discourse of the Principal Desiderata of Natural History." In 1798 he issued a work entitled "Collections toward a Materia Medica of the United States" which he afterwards rewrote and enlarged in two volumes, the first appearing in 1801, the second in 1804, and in 1810 the entire work was revised in one volume. This was his most valuable contribution as we view the matter, and very rare at present.

Dr. Barton died of hereditary gout December 19, 1815. Three days before his death he wrote a paper on a new genus of plants that had been named in his honor.

Dr. Barton was an energetic worker, but a careless writer. He was an industrious student, but would not correct his manuscript, and thus his publications present literary faults that should not have occured with one possessed of the accomplishments and education of the author. This fact usually drew upon him some adverse criticisms upon the appearance of a work from his pen.

Dr. Barton was tall, well-formed and handsome. His disposition was irregular and his temperament often irritable and impatient. A pioneer in the field of American botanical remedies his name will be linked with the early history of many valuable drugs. Those who have his "Collections for a vegetable Materia Medica" possess a work that cannot often be replaced. In our research into the history of American medicinal plants it will be found that Prof. B. S. Barton is usually mentioned as one of the earliest authorities.]

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