This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
South of Denmark in Europe, in N. Africa, and W. Asia, that is to say, the North Temperate Zone, is the limit of the Bryony to-day, its earlier history not being known. In Great Britain it is local, but widely dispersed in the Peninsula province; it is absent in Cornwall, but occurs throughout the Channel, Thames, Anglia, and Severn provinces. In Wales it is found only in Glamorgan, Brecon, Denbigh, and Flint. It is common in the whole of the Trent province, but in the Mersey province is absent from Mid Lancs, but occurs through out the Humber and Tyne provinces, in Cumberland, and Ayr in Scotland. It is thus rare in the north, and absent from Ireland.
The common Bryony is a typical hedgerow species climbing over Hawthorn and other plants. It is associated with Brambles of different kinds, Greater Stitchwort, Violet Tufted Vetch, Sloe, Dog Rose, Cow Parsnip, Elder, Teasel, Great Hedge Bindweed, and other plants. A climbing plant, Bryony is remarkable for its long, coiled tendrils and its large mandrake-like roots. The English and Greek names refer to its quick growth, a feature that one may readily observe for oneself in spring, although it should not be restricted to this plant.
Photo. Flatters & Garnett - Bryony (bryonia Dioica, Jacq.)
The stems are long, furrowed, dividing into one or more branches, long lobes divided to the base, heart-shaped, with 5-lobed leaves, with the teeth bordered with dots, rough, and pale-green.
The plants are dioecious (with flowers on different plants), the male ones in corymbose cymes, the female, which have an ovary below, being in umbels, and the calyx is only half as long as the corolla. The flowers are large with green veins. When ripe the fruit is rounded and red. The Bryony is found 8-10 ft. long. It flowers in May up to September. It is perennial, reproduced by division.
In this flower the male flowers are a palish-yellow, and half an inch across, and in small clusters, the female being half the size or much smaller, and it is a dioecious plant.
Both male and female flowers contain honey, which is concealed. The lower part of the calyx is adherent to the corolla or hemispherical cup - shaped disk, which secretes the honey. In the male flowers 5 stamens arise on the edge of the expanded cup and incline towards the centre, and cover over the cup. Four of the anthers unite to form 2 pairs, and the fifth is free on both sides. The honey-cup has 3 narrow lateral entrances, each placed between 2 stamens fringed with long hairs, with a central entrance also above in the middle of the upper end of the stamens. The anthers form narrow ridges on the broad stamens, and the long narrow slits by which they open are bent, so that the greater part of each faces one of the lateral openings, while the upper one faces upwards. A honey-seeker, alighting in the centre, may thrust its proboscis amongst the stamens, or reach the honey by the lateral entrances, and in the former case would be dusted on the lower surface, in the latter on the upper surface.
The pollen is sticky. The stamens touch the head or the ventral surface of the insect before the stigma does. In female flowers the pistil rises up in the centre and splits into 3 branches, club-shaped with papillae. The visitors are Andrena, Halictus, Coelioxys, Apis, Gorytes, Ammophila, Eumenes, Odymerus, Dasytes,1 Pieris. Andrena florea visits White Bryony only.
The berry contains numerous flat but swollen seeds, which are dispersed by birds.
This is a humus-loving plant, living in a humus soil.
The beetle Lygria hirta, the Hymenoptera Andrena florea, A. denticulata, A. dorsata, the moths Phytheochroa rugosana, Catoptria fuIvana, a fly Gongylomena wiedermani, feed upon it.
Bryonia, Dioscorides, is the Greek name of the plant, and the second Latin name alludes to its dioecious nature.
Bryony is called Bryon, Red or White Bryony, Cowbind, Cow's Lick, Cucurd, Elphamy, Fellon-berry, Grapewort, Hedge Grape, Wild Hep, Poison Berry, Snake Berry, Tetter Berry, White, Wild, Wood Vine. It was called Tetter Berry, and it was believed the berries "are good against all fretting and running cankers, gangraenes and tetters, and therefore the berries are usually called of the country people Tetter Berries ", according to old Parkinson.
1 It has been suggested that the small flowers, which are inconspicuous but highly attractive, have a peculiar odour perceived by them, or possess an attraction not visible to man, that they emit ultraviolet rays. They act energetically on photographic plates.
Shelley used the name Cowbind " And in the warm hedge grew lush eglantine, Green cowbind and the moonlight-coloured May ".
The name Cow's Lick is due to small quantities of it having been given to horses in their corn to make their coats glossy, and for horned cattle. Coles says of the name Mandrake, " The root sometimes groweth to the highnesse of a childe of a yeere old, so that it hath been by some cut into the form of a man and called a mandrake, being set again into the earth".
Lupton describes how men made the counterfeit mandrake. Gerarde also exposes this common fraud. Coles also says they "make thereof an ugly image by which they represent the person on whom they intend to exercise their witchcraft". It was called Devil's Cherry. It was trained to grow into shapes and used as charms. In Chaucer's day it was used to cure leprosy. Its juice was used in Dwale. The root sold for Mandragora is poisonous and acrid. It is powerfully cathartic. The red berries used for dyeing are poisonous.
Essential Specific Characters: 121. Bryonia dioica, Jacq. - Stem climbing, angled, tendrils simple, leaves palmate, 5-lobed, rough, plants dioecious, white with evergreen veins, staminate, in a corymb, pistillate in umbels, berries scarlet, globose.