Dirca palustris. Leatherwood.
Nat. Ord. — Thymelaceae. Sex. Syst. — Octandria Monogynia.
Description. — This is an indigenous shrub, known by the various names of Moosewood, American Mezereon, and Wicopy, and attains the hight of five or six feet, having crooked, jointed, and spreading branches. The leaves are alternate or scattered, nearly sessile, ovate, entire, rather acute, downy when young, smooth and membranous when fully grown, pale beneath, and not appearing till long after the flowers. The flowers are in threes, on cohering peduncles, small, axillary, yellow, and funnel-shaped ; when young they are inclosed within a small, dark, hairy bud, occupying a sheath or cavity in the end of each flowering branch. Calyx eight-toothed, yellow, funnel-shaped, half an inch long, border dilated, drooping, and contracted at the middle and base. Corolla wanting. Stamens eight, much longer than the calyx, and alternately a long and a short one, with rounded anthers. Ovary ovate, placed obliquely, the style appearing to issue from one side ; style filiform, curved, longer than the stamens, and terminated by an acute stigma. Fruit, a small, oval, red or orange-colored berry, containing a single seed.
History. — Found in most parts of the United States, but is more abundant in the Atlantic than in the Western States ; it grows in shady swamps, on the banks of streams, and in low, wet places, and flowers very early in the season, April and May, when it is wholly destitute of leaves. The bark, which is the officinal part, is very fibrous, extremely tough, and difficult to pulverize. It has a nauseous odor, an unpleasant acrid taste, followed when chewed, by a flow of saliva, and imparts its properties to alcohol, and imperfectly to water, even by decoction. It has been used for making ropes, thongs, and baskets, and might be advantageously employed in the arts, for making paper, etc. The wood is white, soft, and very brittle. No complete analysis has been made of the bark, but it appears to contain an acrid resin, a bitter extractive, mucilage, etc.
Properties and Uses. — The bark is acrid, rubefacient and vesicant when fresh ; in the dose of six or eight grains it produces a sense of heat in the stomach, with vomiting, and frequently purging. Applied to the skin it slowly excites redness and ultimately vesication, and the sores caused by it are difficult to heal, frequently degenerating into obstinate and indolent ulcers. When chewed it causes much heat and pain in the mouth, followed by salivation, and has been found useful in toothache, neuralgia, and other complaints where the acrid masticatories are found to be beneficial. A decoction of the bark is expectorant and sudorific, and may be used as a substitute for mezereon. The berries are said to be emetic, narcotic, and poisonous. The bark or berries are rarely used in practice, except in the absence of better known and more efficient articles.