Indian physic


Gillenia (syn. Porteranthus) is a genus of two species of perennial herbs in the Rosaceae family. Common names for plants in this genus include: Bowman's root, indian-physic, American ipecac. This genus is endemic to dry open woods with acidic soils in eastern North America. Both plants are subshrubs with exposed semi-woody branches and serrated leaves; the larger lower leaves are divided into palmately arranged leaflets. Plants bloom in May, June, or July; blooms are composed of five slender white petals which are loosely arranged and typically appear slightly twisted and limp as if they were wilted. The flowers mature into small capsules. These plants are often planted as ornamentals and used medicinally as an herbal remedy.

Classification and name

Traditionally this genus is considered a member of subfamily Spiraeoideae. However, this genus is sometimes included in the subfamily Maloideae (or Pomoideae). This is somewhat controversial since members of this subfamily typically include only woody pome bearing plants with a haploid chromosome number of 17, and Gillenia is herbaceous and has a haploid chromosome number of 9.

It is not totally clear whether Gillenia (Moench) or Porteranthus (Britton ex Small) is the best name to use for this genus. Most current North American scholarly sources use the latter synonym Porteranthus citing that Gillenia is already occupied by way of quasi-synonymy: Gillena was used by Michel Adanson as a synonym for Clethra (The ICBN rules that "similar names that can be confused" should be treated as synonyms). A proposal to formally conserve Gillenia was mooted after a vote determined that Gillena was not validly published and that it and Gillenia were not likely to be confused. Several sources continue to use Porteranthus: Missouri Botanical Gardens 2007, Moerman 2003, Gleason & Cronquist 1991, and Magee and Ahles 1999. The Flora of North America volume containing this genus is not yet published.


The two similar species can be distinguished by their stipules. In G. stipulata, the stipules at the base of the leaves, which are round and deeply toothed, persist throughout the life of the plant. In G. trifoliata the long slender stipules are quickly deciduous, this species also tends to have longer leaves and petals.


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