English Name—YELLOW SNAKELEAF.
French Name—Dent-de-Chien Jaune.
German Name—Gelb Hundzahn.
Vulgar Names—Yellow Adder's tongue, Adderleaf, Dog-Violet, Rattle Snake violet, Lamb's tongue, Scrofula root, Yellow Snow drop, &c.
Synonyms—E. flavum Smith. E. americanum Ker, Nuttal, Torrey, &c. E. dens-canis Mich. Eaton, &c. E. lanceolatum Pursh. E. longifolium Poiret.
Authorities—Michaux, Pursh, Smith, Nuttal, Elliott, Torrey, Bigelow, fig. 58, and Sequel, W. Barton, flora fig. 33, Coxe, Zollickoffer, &c.
Genus ERYTHRONIUM—Perigone corolliform, with six deciduous colored sepals, subequal, campanulate; the three inner ones with a fossule at the base. Stamina six subequal, inserted at the base of each sepal. One pistil, germ turbinate, Style fistulose, Stigma clavate three lobed. Capsul obovate, three celled, three valved, with many ovate seeds.—Stem with two opposite leaves and one flower, root bulbous.
Species E. FLAVUM—Leaves subequal, subradical, lanceolate, mucronate, smooth, entire, flower nodding, sepals oblong-lanceolate, obtuse, the inner ones bidentate near the base: Stigma with three united lobes.
Description—Root perennial, a solid pyriform bulb, deep in the ground, white inside, covered outside with a brown loose tunic, sheathing the base of the Stem, fibres of the root inferior, thick and short. Stem partly under ground with two leaves appearing radical because near the ground, the whole plant smooth and shining; Stem white below, greenish purple above, slender cylindrical from five to twelve inches long, two sessile leaves: on the first year of the growth only one leaf is produced, and it is commonly broader and elliptic. Leaves a little unequal, one being commonly narrower or smaller, they are from three to seven inches long, lanceolate or oval-lanceolate, shining and glabrous, veinless and with a single nerve, often spotted by large irregular spots of a dull brown above, pale and unspotted below, and with an obtuse callous point.
A single flower at the end of the Stem, one inch long, nodding, of a yellow colour, sometimes with a mixture of red outside by a stripe or veins on the external sepals or petals, which are lanceolate reflected, sometimes acute, while the inner ones are oblong lanceolate, obtuse, quite yellow, veinless, with a callous notch on each side at the base, and a furrow in the middle above the fossule or little pitt of the base, above the Stamina, which are inserted quite at the base, shorter than the sepals, yellow, with depressed subulate filaments, and depressed linear anthers. Germ turbinate triangular, Style fistulose, Stigma clavate prismatic trilobe above. The Capsul is naked, turbinate triangular, with three cells and many large oval seeds.
History—This pretty genus was long formed by a single species E. dens-canis growing in Europe and Asia, to which was referred this at first. Several species have since been discovered in America, and they afford many varieties, some of which may on further attention be deemed peculiar species. They all possess the same properties as well as a striking peculiar generic habit, somewhat similar to Claytonia, Clintonia, Mayanthus, &c. The Stem has been mistaken for a Scape by many, because it is partly subterraneous. When this species was distinguished from E. dens-canis, several names were given to it by Botanists nearly at the same time, I have chosen the best if not the oldest also, applying to its yellow flowers, while all the others have white flowers; the name of Americanum so often proposed, is become absurd now. The varieties of this yellow species which I have detected are,
1. Var. Viperinum, Leaves canaliculate with large reddish brown spots; external sepals acuminate, veined with red outside, all the sepals with small purplish dots inside, Stigma entire, trigone, pubescent. This is probably the kind figured by W. Barton.
2. Var. Croceum, Leaves narrow flat with small spots, flower drooping, external sepals partly red outside and obtuse, Stigma trilobe smooth. This is figured by Bigelow.
3. Var. Bracteatum, Leaves unequal, Stem with a lanceolate bract, flower small. This is the E. bracteatum of Boott and Bigelow, from Vermont and the Alleghany; probably a peculiar species.
4. Var. Lucidum, Leaves unspotted, flat shining, oblong lanceolate, flowers quite yellow. This is figured here.
5. Var. Glaucum, Leaves unspotted glaucous, flower yellow with some red veins.
6. Var. Latifolium, Leaves broad oval or elliptic, flat, seldom spotted, flower yellow.
7. Var. Grandiflorum.
8. Var. Parviflorum, &c.
Many strange vulgar names have been given to these plants, the spotted kinds are called Snakeleaf, Adder's tongue or leaf, because compared to Snake's spots, while the unspotted kinds become Lamb's tongue. The Goodyera and Hieracium Venosum are also called Rattle Snake leaf and used as equivalents. Snow-drop alludes to its early blossoms, coming often through snow. In fact it is in the United States the representative of the Galanthus nivalis or true Snow-drop of Europe, blossoming in March and April, while snow is yet falling. The E. albidum is called White Snow-drop. They are both pretty vernal blossoms, deserving to be cultivated in gardens although scentless.
Erythronium is a generic name of Greek origin, applying to the red spots of the leaves. The genus belongs to the fine natural order of LILIACEA, near Tulipa and Fritillaria. It belongs to Hexandria monogynia of Linnaeus.
Locality—It grows from New England to Ohio and south to Carolina; in the Western States it is often superseded by the E. albidum, which extends from New York to Missouri and Tennessee. They both grow in woods, and under the shade of trees, shrubs or plants.
Qualities—The whole plant, but particularly the root, contains fecula, mucilage, a resin, and some volatile principle rather acrid. When dry, the root is farinaceous and loses its unpleasant flavor.
Properties—The root or bulb and the leaves are emetic, emollient, suppurative and antiscrofulous when fresh, nutritive when dry. The plant appears to possess nearly the same properties as the bulbs of many Lilies; but with the addition of an acrid emetic effect, which is lost by drying, boiling, roasting, &c. The dose to produce the emesis is twenty-five grains of the fresh root, or forty of the recent dried root. As it loses its activity by keeping, it is an inconvenient and unsafe emetic. Bigelow proposes to try it as a substitute of Colchicum: although they belong to different Natural Orders. This plant promises better as an antiscrofulous, for which purpose it is employed as well as the E. albidum from New York to Kentucky, &c. the fresh roots and leaves are stewed with milk and applied to the scrofulous sores as a poultice, healing them speedily: this new medical property was first communicated to me by Dr. Crockatt. Many bulbs of Lilies have been used in the same way for sores, but the active acrid principle of this, may act beneficially on the scrofulous sores. Bigelow mentions that even bulbs of Tulips and Daffodils have acted as emetics sometimes. The roots and leaves of this plant may be eaten after boiling, like those of E. dens-canis; but the broth is emetic and nauseous, while it is said that the E. dens-canis makes good broth in Siberia. Salep could be made of these roots by scalding them and drying them afterwards.
Substitutes—Erythronium albidum and Goodyera pubescens for Scrofula, Salep, Roots of Acrid Liliaceous plants, many Emetic roots, &c.
Remarks—The E. albidum, White Snakeleaf or Snow-drop, will be known by its bluish white blossoms, and trifid stigma. It offers as many varieties as the E. flavum, such as 1. Cerulescens, 2. Candidum, 3. Maculatum, 4. Angustifolium, 5. Bracteatum, 6. Grandiflorum, 7. Parviflorum, 8. Clandestinum, 9. Glaucum, &c. Found from New York to Missouri and Kentucky.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.