Note on Tu-Tu (Coriaria Ruscifoliae.)

Botanical name: 


The "tu-tu" plant (pronounced "toot" the final vowel in many Maori words being only an aspirate or lip sound is dropped by Europeans) is indigenous to New Zealand. It grows luxuriantly where situation is favorable, and prefers an exposed site on rising ground, with a dry friable soil; its average height, when mature, may be taken at about 5 feet, of a shrubby herbaceous character, and with its spreading branches covering a considerable extent of surface. Surrounded by sombre ferns and withered grasses, the effect of its glossy dark green foliage is very striking.

Tu-tu, though commonly spoken of as a poison, is such only under certain conditions, and even not then to all animals; the horse, goat, and pig being said to be entirely proof against it under all circumstances; while, conditions being favorable, cattle and sheep often fall victims to it. The season of its greatest activity is in spring; then, the wide spreading roots throw up numerous tender, succulent shoots, which are eaten with avidity by sheep fresh from the hills, where dry grasses and ferns have been the rule. Cattle browse on the young leaves, and when coming to them fresh from other pastures, or exhausted by labor or travel, nearly always with fatal effects. It is said that later in the year the poisonous property is greatly diminished; that even when most virulent its effects are much ameliorated by a previously full stomach, and that the system can become accustomed to it by gradual use. Animals suffering from the effects of this plant are said to be "tooted." Its principal action seems to be on the brain and nervous centres, and produces a condition similar to "staggers." The animal becomes stupid and lethargic, until roused into a fit of mad frenzy by any trivial circumstance, during which it is dangerous for man or beast to be in the way, the frenzy recurring at rapidly decreasing intervals, until death results in a few hours from sheer exhaustion. The only remedy that appears to be used is bleeding from the jugular vein, and that with very poor success, not one in ten lacing benefited, while the exceeding danger attending its use causes it to be practiced only under exceptional circumstances. I am not aware what is the effect of the green herb on man, but singularly enough the "berries" when ripe are grateful and refreshing to the thirsty palate, care being taken to reject the seeds. A common method of utilizing the fruit is by tying a few bunches in a handkerchief and sucking the juice through it. Small birds are very partial to the ripe fruit and no injurious effect on them is apparent; most probably the seeds are voided by them entire. In the early days of the colony, when bullock labor was universal, whole teams were sometimes destroyed or disabled in a single night by this pernicious plant, rendering great care necessary in the choice of a camping place. The immunity enjoyed by the goat in respect of this plant was some years ago made use of on the Flaxbourne sheep run, a large number of these animals being procured for the especial purpose of securing its eradication. That an animal to whom the varied contents of a choice flower garden are a comestible delicacy should be proof against this particular plant is not to be wondered at, but why the plant should be so powerfully toxic as regards other ruminants is a matter for surprise.—Phar. Jour. and Trans., July 12, 1884, p. 22.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 56, 1884, was edited by John M. Maisch.