Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- An order of polypetalous plants of the cohort Ranales, characterized by the numerous stamens inserted on the receptacle, five deciduous and commonly colored sepals, not more than one complete circle of petals, and seeds with a minute embryo in fleshy albumen, and without an aril. They have usually many separate pistils which mature into distinct dry fruits, either achenes or follicles, or coalesce into berries. The species, estimated by some at 1,200, by Durand at 680, are included in 5 tribes and, 30 genera. They occur throughout the world, but in the tropics more rarely and chiefly on mountains, elsewhere forming a conspicuous part of the flora of almost every region, especially in Europe, which contains one fifth, and in North America, which has one seventeenth, of all the species. Their wide distribution is aided by the long-continued vitality of the seeds, many of which are also remarkably slow to germinate after planting, those of several species requiring two years. They are annual or perennial herbs—rarely undershrubs, as Xanthorhiza. Many have dissected alternate or radical leaves, the petiole with an expanded sheathing base, but without stipules; Clematis is exceptional in its opposite leaves and climbing stem. The order is often known as the buttercup or crow-foot family, from the type, and contains an unusually large proportion of other characteristic plants, as the hepatica of America, the Christmas rose of Germany, and the lesser celandine of England. It includes also many of the most beautiful flowers of garden cultivation. Most of the species contain in their colorless juice an acrid and caustic principle, which sometimes becomes a dangerous narcotic poison, is often of great medicinal value(see hellebore, aconite, Hydrastis, Actæa., Cimicifuga), is usually most concentrated in the roots, but very volatile in the foliage and stems, and is dissipated by drying or in water, but intensifled by the action of acids, alcohol, etc. The order was one of the earliest to be defined by botanists with substantially its present limits (as Multisiliquæ by Linnæus, 1751), and has long been placed at the head of the polypetalous families of dicotyledons, standing as the first order of plants in the most widely accepted classifications, from De Candolle in 1819 to Durand in 1888.
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