BY W. T. THISELTON DYEK, C.M.G., F.R.S.
Related entries: Kamala
Perhaps I may be allowed to add a few remarks to what is stated about "waras" in Mr. Kirkby's interesting paper in the Pharmaceutical Journal. The note contained in the inclosed copy of the "Kew Report" for 1880, p. 50, is, I believe, the origin of the identification of the plant producing the Aden drug with Flemingia congesta.
The following is the note referred to:
"Waras.—A drug known under this name appears to be exported in considerable quantity from Aden. It is used as a substitute for kamala, a well-known Indian product of Mallotus philippinensis (Rottlera tinctoria Roxb.). Its origin is quite unknown (see Flückiger and Hanbury, 'Pharmacographia' pp. 575, 576). At the suggestion of the former, Captain Hunter, Assistant Resident at Aden, obtained specimens of the plant stated to yield waras in Arabia. He has also sent one to Kew with a note stating that it was gathered 'at an elevation of 6,000 feet on Jebel Dthubarah, 60 miles due north of Aden.' The plant sent was immediately identified with a leguminous species, Flemingia congesta, Roxb., having of course no affinity with Mallotus philippinensis.
"True kamala consists of the epidermal glands, detached by brushing from the fruits of the Mallotus. Alcohol extracts from it a splendid red color. The name 'waras' means saffron, and it may be mentioned in support of the notion that a similar substance is yielded in Arabia by perhaps one or more species of Flemingia, that dried specimens belonging to this genus stain paper in the herbarium a bright yellow color when washed over with the alcoholic solution of corrosive sublimate used to protect them from the attacks of insects. Flemingia rhodocarpa, Bak., from the Mozambique district has its pods covered with a bright red resinous pubescence.
"In the 'Pharmacographia' (2d ed., p. 372) Flückiger and Hanbury state that Mallotus philippinensis grows in Abyssinia and Southern Arabia. In a letter, Professor Flückiger doubts whether he and Mr. Hanbury were not mistaken in regard to this. The evidence of specimens in the Kew herbarium only carries the distribution to the west as far as Scinde. There is nothing improbable in its extending to Arabia, the flora of which is still so imperfectly known."
Professor Flückiger, with whom I had corresponded upon the subject, informed me (July 12, 1881) that though he at first objected to Flemingia as the source of "waras" he then thought the statement correct.
As the Kew Museum contained no satisfactory specimens of either African or Arabian "waras," we applied to the Resident at Aden to kindly assist us in procuring samples. These reached England in July of last year. In both cases the "waras" itself agreed microscopically with an authentic sample derived from Professor Flückiger, and had the structure figured by Mr. Kirkby. All three also exhibited the characteristic property of turning first bright red, then black, when carefully heated in small quantity on a glass slip over the flame of a spirit lamp.
The sample of Somali "waras" was mixed with seeds of a dull brown color mottled with black. These were found to agree precisely with the seeds of Flemingia rhodocarpa, Bak., from the Mozambique, which, as mentioned in the "Kew Report" (l. c.) "has its pods covered with a bright red resinous pubescence." A further scrutiny of the original specimen obtained by Captain Hunter from the neighborhood of Aden, which is in a rather immature state, led Professor Oliver to the conclusion that this also belonged to Flemingia rhodocarpa. I believe that the drug is derived from the young pods, and am disposed, therefore, to think that Dr. Dymock is in error in describing it as "the gland of the leaf."
I communicated these further facts to Professor Flückiger, and he wrote to me, October 4, 1883, "I am very much pleased with your statements, and can only say that I most fully agree with your conclusion as to the identity of the Somali "waras" with my original specimen and also that of the seed of Flemingia rhodocarpa with those met with in the said drug."
In the new "Official Guide to the Museums of Economic Botany at Kew" (No. 1, p. 45) we accordingly state that "waras . . . consists of the epidermic glands of the young pods of Flemingia rhodocarpa, Baker; native of Arabia and East Tropical Africa."
The third variety described by Mr. Kirkby is quite new to me, and I join with him in hoping that some further information about the plant yielding it will soon be forthcoming.
A further most interesting communication on the subject from Major F. M. Hunter, Assistant Resident at Aden, contained a memorandum giving the complete history of the collection of the drug with a further specimen in fruit of the plant producing it, the pods bearing the epidermal glands still undetached. There can be now no sort of doubt that the "waras" plant is really that described by Mr. J. G. Baker, F. R. S., in the "Flora of Tropical Africa," as Flemingia rhodocarpa.
But my colleague, Professor Oliver, F. R. S., whose kindness is only equalled by his sagacity, has made the curious discovery that a Flemingia apparently confined to South India, F. Grahamiana, W. and A., is not specifically distinguishable from F. rhodocarpa; the pods are in fact clothed with the same peculiar epidermal glands so characteristic of that species. The "waras" plant is therefore really to be found in India after all.
In creating a new species for the "waras" plant, Mr. J. G. Baker pardonably neglected the comparison of the material he was working upon with specimens of the species occurring in so remote and botanically widely severed an area as the southern part of the Indian peninsula.
I trust that room may be found for Major Hunter's memorandum, which I append in its entirety.
Notes on "waras" collected at Harrar in February and March, 1884.
"In the neighborhood of the city c waras' is not now raised from seed sown artificially, and it is left to nature to propagate the shrub in the surrounding terraced gardens. The plant springs up, among jowari, coffee, etc., in bushes scattered about at intervals of several yards more or less. When sown, as among the Gallas, it is planted before the rains in March. If the soil be fairly good a bush bears in about a year. After the berries [pods] have been plucked the shrub is cut down to within six inches of the ground. It springs up again after rain and bears a second time in about six months, and this process is repeated every second year until the tree dies. Rain destroys the berry [pod] for commercial purposes, it is therefore only gathered in the dry season ending about the middle of March. The bush grows to a maximum height of six feet, and it branches close to the ground. The growth is open and the foliage sparce. Each owner has a few acres of land.
"In the middle of February, 1884, the following processes were observed:
"The leaves [? fruiting shoots] of some plants were plucked and allowed to dry in the sun for three or four days. (The picking is not done carefully and a considerable quantity of the surrounding twigs, etc., is mixed with the berries [pods].) The collected mass was placed on a skin, heaped up to about six or eight inches high, and was tapped gently with a short stick about half an inch thick. After some time the pods were denuded of their outer covering of red powder which fell through the mass on to the skin. The upper portion of the heap was then cleared away and the residual reddish green powder was placed in a flat woven grass dish with a sloping rim of about an inch high. This receptacle was agitated gently and occasionally tapped with the fingers, the result being the subsidence of the red powder and the rising to the surface of the chaffy refuse, which latter was carefully worked aside to the edge of the dish and then removed by hand. This winnowing was continued until little remained but red powder. (No great pains are even taken to eliminate all foreign matter.) A rotl was sold in 1884 for about 13 piasters = 1 rupee 10 as. nearly.
"'Waras' is sent to Arabia, chiefly to Yemen and Hadhramaut, where it is used as a dye, a cosmetic, and a specific against cold. In order to use it, a small portion of the powder is placed in one palm and moistened with water, the hands are then rubbed smartly together, producing a lather of a bright gamboge color, which is applied as required."—Pharm. Jour. and Trans., May 17, 1884, p. 917, and May 31, p. 969.