Xanthorrhiza Apiifolia. Shrub yellow root.

Plate 25. Xanthorrhiza apiifolia. Parts used - Botanical analysis - Common names - Botanical and geographical description - Botanical history - Orthography - Botanical affinities - The microscopical structure of Xanthorrhiza rhizome - Description of the drug - Constituents - Pharmacopoeial history - Unofficinal preparations - Medical history and properties - Medical and pharmaceutical references to Xanthorrhiza apiifolia

PARTS USED.—The rhizome and roots of Xanthorrhiza apiifolia L'Her.

Natural Order Ranunculaceae, Tribe Helleboreae.

BOTANICAL ANALYSIS.—Rhizome, growing several inches below the surface, branched, woody, cylindrical. Stem erect, woody, unbranched, two or three feet high, bearing leaves and flowers only on the upper portion, marked with scars of fallen leaves. Leaves, alternate on the upper portion of the stem, odd-pinnate, erect; leaf-stalk long, abruptly dilated at the base, bearing five approximate sessile leaflets at the extremity; leaflets oval or lanceolate, wedge-shape and sessile at the apex, veiny, deeply incisely, two or three cleft or parted, margins incisely serrate. Flowers numerous, small, dark purple, racemosely arranged in a drooping, few-branched particle, appearing in early spring. Sepals five, purple, petaloid, spreading, acute, equal. Petals five, small, erect, two-lobed, gland-like organs raised on a short claw. Stamens five, alternate with the petals, or sometimes ten. Pistils five or ten, sessile; ovary one-celled, with a tapering style, containing two ovules attached to the middle of the ventral suture. Fruit a cluster of small, membranous, gibbous, follicles, each containing a solitary, minute seed suspended from its apex.

COMMON NAMES.—From the bright yellow color of the rhizome the plant is known as Yellow Root. In most medical works, to distinguish it from Hydrastis canadensis also called Yellow Root, Xanthorrhiza is designated as Shrub Yellow Root, but in the Southern States, its place of growth, where Hydrastis is mostly absent or rare, the plant is known to the people simply as Yellow Root.

In European works the plant is often called American Shrub Yellow Root; in botanical works it is usually designated as Parsley-leaved Yellow Root; and in the drug trade is generally known as Southern Yellow Root.

The name Yellow-wort is also applied to the plant instead of Yellow Root, in many works, and is modified by all the before mentioned adjectives.

BOTANICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL DESCRIPTION.—Shrub Yellow Root, is a very common plant along the streams in the mountains and hilly portions of the Southern States. It grows in clumps or patches abundantly along the sandy banks of streams and in shady situations rather than in the sun, It extends northward along the mountains to Pennsylvania, and has been found in a few localities in New York. Mr. J. H. Sears reports that it has been introduced and is rapidly spreading in Essex county, Massachusetts.

The rhizomes grow horizontally several inches below the surface and are branched and often densely interwoven. They send up at intervals of several inches, stems that are usually branched below the surface, the branches arising erect and parallel and appearing like separate stems.

Above the ground the stems are erect, simple and seldom (if ever) branched. They grow from one to three feet high and are about the size of a lead pencil in diameter and nearly uniform in thickness throughout. The leaves are borne all in a terminal cluster and the whole aspect of the plant, its simple, unbranched, uniform stem and terminal bunch of leaves remind one of a palm tree on a small scale.

Fig. 99. Cross section of a stem of Xanthorrhiza ... The bark is externally of a light gray color [The statement in Wood's Class Book and other works that the plant has a yellow bark is incorrect.], especially on the new wood, and bright yellow beneath. It is marked at intervals of one to two inches with scars of fallen leaves. The stem grows six to nine inches, from a terminal bud, each year, and the base of each year's growth is shown by a number of approximate scars. The woody zone is of a light yellow color and has a large number of medullary rays which can be plainly seen in a cross section. A white pith in the center of the stem has one-third the diameter of the stem.

The leaves are deciduous and hence are found only on the new wood or upper portion of the stem. They are alternate, and grow erect at a very acute angle with the stem. The base of the leaf-stalk clasps and nearly encircles the stem with a peculiarly abrupt dilation.

Fig. 100. A flower of Xanthorrhiza apiifolia. Each leaf consists of five, sessile, pinnate, approximate leaflets borne near the top of the long slender leaf-stalk. The leaflets are about two inches long, ovate, cuneate at the base, veiny, glabrous, and incisely lobed; the margins are doubly and incisely, cut toothed.

The flowers appear in early spring, together with the partly grown leaves. They are small, brownish purple, numerous, and arranged in lax, racemose, few-branched, drooping panicles from the axis of a (fallen) bud scale. [Not from the axes of the lower leaves, as stated by Bentley and Trimen.]

Fig. 101. A flower and petal of Xanthorrhiza apiif... [This figure, taken from Baillon's History of Plants, represents ten stamens. The usual number is five.] The individual flowers are borne mostly two or three together [Our criticism of the engraving of Xanthorrhiza in Gray's Genera (plate 17) would be that the pedicels are not simple as those mostly shown. also the absence of bracts.], and on bracted pedicels. They consist of five brownish purple, spreading sepals, five small, gland-like petals, five (sometimes ten) stamens and five (or more) sessile pistils. Fig. 102. A section of an ovary. The ovary contains two ovules attached about the middle of the inner suture. Only one of these ovules matures, and as a the ovary grows it develops unequally, the ovary bearing portion becomes the summit of the pod and the original stigmatic apex becomes deeply dorsal (see figs 103 and 104). Fig. 103. A section of a fruit The fruit is produced in a branching panicle borne on the stem at the base of the leaves. It consists of very small inflated light yellow, or straw-colored membranous pods, tipped on the back with the persistent short stigmas and containing each a minute dark seed suspended from the apex of the pod.

Fig. 104. The fruit. BOTANICAL HISTORY.—The plant was discovered by John Bartram [J. Bartram was one of the pioneer botanists of America. He was born in 1701, of Quaker parents, his grandfather having been one of the famous settlers who came over with William Penn in 1682. Bartram early manifested a love for natural sciences, especially botany, and made many excursions through what was then the English provinces in quest of new plants. He established at Kingsess on the banks of the Schuylkill, about five miles from Philadelphia, the first botanic garden in this country and filled it with native plants, collected on his various trips. Bartram labored under great difficulties on account of his isolation from the working botanists of his day and the delay and trouble in communicating with them. He was in correspondence with the foremost botanists of Europe at that time, Linnaeus, Dillenius, Catesby, Sloane, Sherard, Fothergill, Gronovius and others, and furnished many new plants for European botanical gardens. We find record of his sending plants to Sherard as early as 1728. Bartram's industry in the pursuits of science secured for him fellowship in the leading learned societies of Europe and he was appointed "American Botanist" by King George III. He was not the author of any work on botany, but a Journal of his travels in Florida, containing many botanical notes, was published by William Stock about the time of his death. Bartram died in September, 1777, in his seventy-sixth year.] in Georgia, about 1760. [We have no record whatever of the year the discovery was made. The only reference we can find is Woodhouse, who states (1802) that it was brought to Philadelphia "about forty years since."] He transferred the plant to his botanical garden at Kingsess where it continued to flourish luxuriently for a number of years. We are unable to find the name that Bartram applied to the plant. His son, William, called the plant Marbosia tinctoria [Barton gives the name Zanthorhiza Marbosia, Bartram as one of the synonyms for the plant. We do not know where this name was published, but it was probably in one of the horticultural catalogues issued by William Bartram, after the generic name Xanthorrhiza had been established by Marshall and L'Heritier. It is evident that Marbosia was the original generic name given the plant by the Bartrams.], in honor of M. de Marbois [The Marquis de Marbois, whose proper name was François Bathe de Marbois, was an eminent French statesman and literator who was born at Metz in 1745. He was prominent in French politics and wrote several works, one a history of Louisiana. For the French nation, he negotiated the sale of the tract, formerly known as Louisiana, to the United States. He was not a patron of botany and we do not know why Bartram should desire to commemorate his name by a genus of plants.] and it is probable that he received the name from his father. [We have searched in vain for the original reference for this name, Marbosia tinctoria, by William Bartram. The only work of importance published by him was his Travels in North and South Carolina, printed in 1792, but we do not find any reference to the plant in this work, and had he mentioned it, he would have probably used the name Xanthorrhiza, which was by that time well established and known. John Bartram. and after him William, his son, were horticulturists and sold plants to the gardens of Europe, They issued a "sheet catalogue," published by John and William Bartram, botanists in Kingsess; containing the names of Forest Trees and Shrubs growing in, or near, their garden" (see Marshall's Arbustrum, page xx. of the introduction). It was in this catalogue, no doubt, which we have not been able to obtain, that the name Marbosia tinctoria was printed.]

All writers agree that the plant was introduced into Europe in 1766, by John Bush, who probably obtained it by purchase from Bartram. As it was easily propagated it became established in a number of botanical gardens, but was overlooked by botanical writers for twenty years. In 1784 [Although dated this year, it is probable the work was not issued for several years afterwards. See note below.] L'Heritier [Charles Louis L'Heritier was a wealthy French botanist, who resided in Paris. He began the study of botany as a pursuit to fill his leisure hours, about 1770, and died in 1800, murdered by his son. He was an ardent admirer of Linnaeus, and as at that time French botanists were strongly opposed to the Linnaean system and in favor of that of their own countrymen, Tournefort and Jussieu, L'Heritier met with bitter opposition at home. In order to establish his own views, having wealth and leisure, L'Heritier began the publication in fascicles of an expensive work, elegantly illustrated called "Stirpes Novae aut Minus Cognitae," and Xanthorrhiza was one of the plants described in this work.] described and illustrated it with a beautiful engraving in his work entitled "Stirpes Novae aut Minus Cognitae". [Viz., plants new or little known.] He called it Zanthorhiza apiifolia. [The generic name Xanthorrhiza is derived from ξανθος yellow and ριζα riza root, from the color of the rhizome. The specific name Apiifolia is from Apium, the former generic name of the Parsley and Folium, a leaf, from the resemblance of the leaves of this plant to those of the Garden Parsley (now Petroselinum sativum, formerly Apium sativum).]

In 1785, Humphrey Marshall, a Philadelphia horticulturist, published his Arbustrum Americanum, or catalogue of American trees and shrubs, and described the plant as Xanthorhiza simplicissima [Viz., most simple, a prominent characteristic of the unbranched stems.], and in our opinion this is the prior name and should be adopted. [A careful consideration of all the evidence on the subject convinces us that the generic name Xanthorrhiza was originated by Marshall, and that L'Heritier deliberately stole the name, ante-dated his publication, and received unmerited credit as its author. It is evident that one copied from the other and it seems very strange that Marshall, a comparatively obscure American botanist, should have been familiar with an expensive French work issued by L'Heritier only a year previous, and on a subject not confined to American plants. Besides Marshall distinctly states that "he imposed the name (Xanthorhiza) before he heard of Bartram's name (Marbosia)." That L'Heritier was guilty of ante-dating some of his fascicles was charged and proven by a Spanish botanist, Cavanilles, whose work on the 'Mallow family was seemingly forestalled by L'Heritier.]

In 1802 [Medical Repository, 1802, p. 159.], Dr. James Woodhouse figured and described the plant and proposed the name Xanthorrhiza tinctoria, [Dr. Woodhouse proposed the name because, as he states, "the stem is sometimes branched, hence the name simplicissima is not appropriate, and the leaves do not sufficiently resemble those of Parsley to be called Apiifolia."] but the article not appearing in a botanical work, writers on plants have mostly overlooked it and few have used the name, even as a synonym.

In most botanical and medical works L'Heritier is credited with naming the plant, and his name and spelling Zanthorhiza apiifolia has been generally used.

ORTHOGRAPHY.—The generic name of the plant has been spelled in a variety of ways by botanical authors. Zanthorhiza is the usual manner, but we find on search the following spellings: Zanthorhiza, Zanthoriza, Zanthorrhiza, Zanthorriza, Xanthorhiza and Xanthorrhiza. Marshall spelled it Xanthorhiza and L'Heritier, Zanthorhiza. The correct spelling, as now accepted by Watson, and to which attention was specially drawn by W. H. Leggett, in 1870, [On this subject Mr. Leggett says: The English Z is never an equivalent for the Greek ξ, and with the exception of Zanthoxylum all other botanical names beginning with ξ in Greek are spelled with an X, quite a number commencing with this same syllable Xantho, Lindley and the English botanists generally seem to prefer the X, but on the continent Z prevails." "In this connection we are reminded of another point in which inaccuracy is frequent. The word is composed of two elements xantho and rhiza; now it is an invariable rule in Greek compounds that when the first part ends in a vowel and the second commences with an r that the r must be doubled. We therefore submit that the correct spelling should be Xanthorrhiza."—Wm. H. Leggett, in Bulletin of Torrey Botanical Club, 1870.] is Xanthorrhiza.

As far as we can find, Sprengel is the only botanist who has spelled it correctly; most writers follow L'Heritier, and make the two-fold error of beginning with an initial z and not doubling the r.

BOTANICAL AFFINITIES.—The genus Xanthorrhiza consists of only the one species described in this article and is confined to the Southern Allegheny range. In botanical affinities it stands between the two orders Ranunculaceae and Berberidaceae, and while by all systematists it has always been included in the former, our belief is that it belongs to the Berberidaceae and will finally be placed there. We would not, however, assume to make that change in this work contrary to all authorities however strong our convictions may be.

In general aspect the plant resembles some evergreen species of Berberis, especially Berberis nervosa, so closely that it cannot but be noticed at once, and the yellow color of the wood and chemical constituents are almost identical with those of all species of Berberis. No other species of Ranunculaceae (excepting the abnormal genus Clematis, which agrees with the order in most other particulars) has a woody stem at all and none have the prominent constituent of the Berberidaceae (Berberin) in such quantity.

The woody rhizome of Xanthorrhiza is so nearly like the root of Berberis repens and Berberis Aquifolium that they could be substituted in commerce.

Xanthorrhiza agrees with Berberidaceae and differs from all other Ranunculaceae in having definite stamens. The principal reason why Bentham and Hooker refer it to the latter seems to be that these stamens (and other parts of the flower) are five, instead of three or a multiple of three; also because they are alternate with the petals. Baillon has shown that they are often ten and in this case alternate ones are opposite the petals, a position rare among plants generally, but common in the Berberidaceae.

The peculiar glandular petals of Xanthorrhiza are not found in other Ranunculaceae, but are found almost identical in size and appearance in several genus of the Berberidaceae.

Other points might be shown to prove, as we claim, that the genus Xanthorrhiza is wrongly classed.

THE MICROSCOPICAL STRUCTURE OF XANTHORRHIZA RHIZOME.—Written for this publication by Louisa Reed Stowell.—Forming the external part of the rhizome are nine or more layers of tabular, or brick-shaped cells of parenchyma, closely resembling cork.

Next to this structure are found the usual oval cells of parenchyma, so closely resembling the green layer of the bark. These cells contain a few small starch grains. This structure is bright yellow in color, which deepens as it approaches the wood. The cells of the inner part of this structure are much smaller than those of the outer part.

The woody zone of the rhizome has generally eighteen clearly marked medullary rays. The prosenchymatous cells of the wood are thick-walled and firm. This structure is bright yellow in color.

The pith parenchyma, or the central part of the rhizome, is slender, and composed of thin-walled, delicate cells, containing a few small starch grains. Many times these cells have disappeared leaving an open space in the center of the rhizome,

Fig. 105. The rhizome. DESCRIPTION OF THE DRUG.—As found in commerce Xanthorrhiza consists of the woody rhizomes of the plant in sections from four inches to a foot long. The main rhizome is about one-third of an inch thick and it sends off numerous branches, which are slender and nearly uniform in thickness, being about a sixth of an inch in diameter. These branches form the greater bulk of the commercial drug. The rhizome, when fresh, is covered with a bright yellow bark, which, on drying, becomes light brown. When dry it is brittle and easily separated from the woody portion and is wrinkled longitudinally. The woody portion of the drug is of a uniform light yellow color; it breaks with a brittle fracture and exhibits numerous medullary rays. The pith in the center of the rhizome is quite distinct, especially in the branches, occupying at least one-half their diameter. Xanthorrhiza is intensely bitter, owing to the berberine, which is its prominent constituent.

CONSTITUENTS.—Dr. Woodhouse made an examination of the drug and thought to have discovered a resin and gum, both bitter. This was correct, as far as the resin and gum are concerned, but the bitterness was due to the berberine. That Xanthorrhiza contained berberine was first announced by Mr. G. Dyson Perrins in the Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions, May, 1862. This was indicated independently of the publication or this paper, however, for, May 3, 1862, Mr. Wm. S. Merrell, of Cincinnati, in a letter addressed to the Publishing Committee of the American Journal of Pharmacy states that "hydrastia closely resembles berberine, the alkaline base of Berberis vulgaris, and also we think that of Xanthorrhiza apiifolia." [Mr. Merrell was endeavoring to show that the yellow coloring matter of hydrastis was not berberine, and he called it hydrastia. This view he afterward abandoned.] Mr. Perrins positively demonstrated both by reactions and analysis that the yellow coloring matter of Xanthorrhiza was berberine, and he was the first who proved it.

It is a matter of record that in many (perhaps most) berberine yielding plants a colorless alkaloid accompanies berberine.

In order to determine if this is also true of Xanthorrhiza, under our direction Mr. J. Schultz investigated the subject in our laboratory. All endeavors to identify a second alkaloid were fruitless, and berberine only was obtained.

The berberine of Xanthorrhiza is more difficult to separate than that of Hydrastis canadensis, and, although hydrochlorate of Berberine is nearly insoluble in water and in alcohol, the addition of hydrochloric acid to excess, either in the alcoholic or aqueous percolate of Xanthorrhiza, fails to separate much of the berberine. Sulphuric acid, however, readily breaks the combination, and a strong excess of sulphuric acid added to the cold alcoholic percolate is followed by a precipitation of considerable mono-berberine sulphate.

Yield of Berberine.—Mr. Perrins only obtained 0.107 per cent. of nitrate of berberine, which was partly owing to the fact that nitric acid will not completely separate the alkaloid. We have obtained an average pf 320 parts of mono-berberinc sulphate from 27,124 parts of Xanthorrhiza rhizome, or 1.1 per cent.

PHARMACOPOEIAL HISTORY.—Xanthorrhiza became officinal in the first issue of the Pharmacopoeia, as "Xanthorrhiza, or Yellow Root," the officinal, part being "Radix, the Root." The New York edition of the Pharmacopoeia also recognized it, and all subsequent editions of the U. S. P. gave it a position, until discarded in 1880. This plant having never been of any importance to the medical profession and scarcely even an article of commerce, it is surprising that it should have cumbered the pages of this publication for the period of half a century.

UNOFFICINAL PREPARATIONS.—Only an infusion has been recognized, and Dunglison gives the preparations as—Xanthorrhiza, one ounce; water, one pint; dose, one and a half to three fluid ounces.

MEDICAL HISTORY AND PROPERTIES.—The first reference to this plant was in the Medical Repository [Medical Repository, 1802, Vol. V. No. II., p. 159.], in which Dr. Woodhouse gave a record of the uses to which he put the plant. All subsequent statements have been based upon these investigations.

Prof. B. S. Barton in his collections [Collections for a Vegetable Materia Medica, part second, third edition, p. 11.] gave it some attention and considered it a bitter that might replace columbo and other simple bitter tonics. The "New Dispensatory," by Thatcher, 1810, accepts Xanthorrhiza as "preferable to all our native bitters," and states that Mr. John Bartram used the plant with Prussian blue to color the plumage of birds green. In the first edition of the United States Dispensatory, 1833, we find that "Xanthorrhiza possesses properties closely analogous to those of columbo, quassia, and other simple tonic bitters; and may be used for the same purposes and in the same manner." To this, nothing has since been added, and although we thus find Xanthorrhiza most favorably introduced by the leaders of medicine of the early yart of this century, and although it has been officinal in the Pharmacopoeia since its first issue (1820) until discarded in 188o, it has failed to obtain a foothold. It has never been a favorite with either Botanic or Eclectic physicians and it is hardly recognized by them. In this connection we must revert to the fact that although known to Eclectics, and possessing berberine in nearly as great proportion as hydrastis, they persistently refused to use it in place of that drug, asserting that its action was not at all similar. The investigations of Professors Bartholow, Sattler, Shoemaker, and others (see Hydrastis), now show that these conclusions were rational, as at least one of the very active principles of hydrastis is entirely absent from Xanthorrhiza.

The dose of powdered Xanthorrhiza rhizome, as given by Dr. Woodhouse, was from 20 to 40 grains, and an equivalent amount of the infusion or tincture. This is still accepted.


1801.—Barton's Collections, p. 11.
1802.—Medical Repository, Vol. V., No. ii., p. 159. W. P. C. Barton's Vegetable Materia Medica, Vol. II., plate 46, p. 203 (and subsequent editions).
1810.—The American New Dispensatory, Thatcher, p. 228.
1811.—American Medical Lexicon (not paged).
1812.—Cullen's Treatise of the Materia Medica, by B. S. Barton, Vol. II., p. 57.
1818.—Edinburgh New Dispensatory, p. 423 (Dyckman's U. S. edition).
1818.—American Dispensatory, Coxe, p. 627.
1820.—Pharmacopoeia of the United States, p. 49.
1820.—House Surgeon and Physician, Hand, p. 252.
1821.—Supplement to the London Pharmacopoeia, p. 151.
1822.—Sequel to the Pharmacopoeia of the United States, Bigelow, p. 400.
1826.—Materia Medica of the United States, Zollickoffer, pp. 88, 99.
1827.—Outline of Lectures on Materia Medics, and Botany, W. P. C. Barton, p. 287.
1829.—Manual of Materia Medica and Pharmacy, Edwards & Vavasseur (edition of Togno & Durand), p. 150.
1830.—Pharmacopoeia of the United States (Philadelphia edition), p. 38.
1830.—Pharmacopoeia of the United States (New York edition), p. 65.
1830.—Medical Flora and Botany of the United States. Rafinesque, p. 276.
1830.—Introduction to the Natural System of Botany, Lindley, p. 7.
1832.—Improved System of Botanic Medicine, Howard (and other editions), p. 359.
1833.—Prodrome of a work to aid the teaching of the Vegetable Materia Medica, W. P. C. Barton, p. 75.
1833.—United States Dispensatory (and other editions), p. 670.
1834.—American Journal of Pharmacy, p. 285.
1840.—Pharmacopoeia of the United States, p. 49.
1843.—General Therapeutics and Materia Medica, Dunglison, Vol. II (and subsequent editions), p. 40.
1845.—Practice of Medicine on Thompsonian Principles, Comfort, p. 468.
1848.—Medicinal Plants of New York, Lee, p. 6.
1848.—Mayne's Dispensatory and Therapeutical Remembrancer (and other editions), Griffith, p. 285.
1848.—Christison's Dispensatory, or Commentary on the Pharmacopoeias of Great Britain and the United States, Griffith, p. 955.
1849.—Indigenous Medicinal Plants of South Carolina, Porcher, p. 687. (From report of American Medical Association.)
1850.—Pharmacopoeia of the United States, p. 55.
1850.—Catalogue of the Medicinal Plants of the United States, Clapp, p. 722. (From report of American Medical Association.)
1852.—Eclectic Dispensatory of the United States (King & Newton), p. 428 (and subsequent editions).
1858.—Proceedings American Pharmaceutical Association, p. 284.
1860.—Pharmacopoeia of the United States, p. 63.
1862.—Proceedings American Pharmaceutical Association, p. 92.
1864.—American Journal of Pharmacy, p. 308.
1870.—Pharmacopoeia of the United States, p. 62.
1873.—Pharmaceutical Lexicon, Sweringen, p. 423.
1878.—Dispensatory and Pharmacopoeia of North America and Great Britain, Buchanan & Siggins, p. 284.
1882.—Dictionary of Economic Plants, Smith, p. 446.
1884.—National Dispensatory, Stillè & Maisch, p. 1620 (and other editions.)

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