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There is still another distinction, which ought not to be omitted,—the fact, that many of the odoriferous plants never1 enter into the composition of garlands, the iris 2 and the saliunca, for example, although, both of them, of a most exquisite odour. In the iris, it is the root3 only that is held in esteem, it being extensively employed in perfumery and medicine. The iris of the finest quality is that found in Illyricum,4 and in that country, even, not in the maritime parts of it, but in the forests on the banks of the river Drilon5 and near Narona. The next best is that of Macedonia,6 the plant being extremely elongated, white, and thin. The iris of Africa7 occupies the third rank, being the largest of them all, and of an extremely bitter taste.

The iris of Illyricum comprehends two varieties—one of which is the raphanitis, so called from its resemblance to the radish,8 of a somewhat red colour, and superior9 in quality to the other, which is known as the "rhizotomus." The best kind of iris is that which produces sneezing10 when handled. The stem of this plant is a cubit in length, and erect, the flower being of various colours, like the rainbow, to which circumstance it is indebted for its name. The iris, too, of Pisidia11 is far from being held in disesteem. Persons12 who intend taking up the iris, drench the ground about it some three months before with hydromel, as though a sort of atonement offered to appease the earth; with the point of a sword, too, they trace three circles round it, and the moment they gather it, they lift it up towards the heavens.

The iris is a plant of a caustic nature, and when handled, it causes blisters like burns to rise. It is a point particularly recommended, that those who gather it should be in a state of chastity. The root, not only when dried,13 but while still in the ground, is very quickly attacked by worms. In former times, it was Leucas and Elis that supplied us with the best oil14 of iris, for there it has long been cultivated; at the present day, however, the best comes from Pamphylia, though that of Cilicia and the northern climates is held in high esteem.

1 For some superstitious reason, in all probability. Pliny mentions below, the formalities with which this plant ought to be gathered.

2 See B. xiii. c. 2. The ancient type of this plant, our iris, sword- lily, or flower-de-luce, was probably the Iris Florentina or Florentine iris of modern botany.

3 At the present day, too, it is the root of the plant that is the most important part of it.

4 The Iris Florentina, probably, of Linnæus.

5 Mentioned by Nicander, Theriaca, l. 43.

6 Probably a variety only of the preceding kind.

7 The most common varieties in Africa are the Iris alata of Lamarck, l. Mauritanica of Clusius, I. juncea, and I. stylosa of Desfontaines.

8 "Raphanus." C. Bauhin identifies the Rhaphanitis with the Iris biflora, and the Rhizotomus with the Iris angustifolia prunum redolens.

9 See c, 38 of this Book.

10 No kind of iris, Fée says, fresh or dried, whole or powdered, is pro- ductive of this effect.

11 Very similar, probably, to that of Illyria.

12 All these superstitions are from Theophrastus, Hist. Plant. B. ix. c. 9.

13 This, Fée says, is quite consistent with modern experience.

14 "Irinum." See B. xiii. c. 2.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), NARO
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), PISI´DIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), SELGE
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