This tree belongs to a large and important order of the pulse family, familiar representatives of which are found in the locust, tamarind, and the like. The majority of the plants that belong to this widely diffused order are indigenous to foreign lands. "When full grown this tree attains a height of twenty to twenty-five feet, has a bright-colored, smooth bark, and very irregular, spreading branches. The wood is very heavy and resinous, of a light-brown color, coarse and cross-grained, and lasts almost equally in or out of water. It makes excellent piles for wharves, and is reckoned the most lasting timber in America, every way as good as the English oak, and having such a leaf. 'The blossoms are very white and sweet, small, and in bunches, as full as the tree can hold. After the bloom come bunches of a membranous substance, looking like hops at a distance, in which are contained the seed. Calyx of a brownish red, covered with greenish hairs. The leaves are twice pinnatifid, somewhat coriaceous, covered with a fine down when young, afterwards becoming almost glob-ous, and deciduous. Leaflets about two inches long, twelve to sixteen lines broad, and pointed. The leaves are shed early in the year, and previous to the development of the new foliage the flowers make their appearance. This tree is easily propagated by seeds or cuttings, and stakes cut from it soon take root and form an excellent live fence. The bark of the trunk is very astringent ; a decoction of it stops the immediate discharge of ulcers, especially when it is combined with mangrove bark. It cures the mange in dogs, and would probably answer well for tanning leather. The bark of the root, pounded, is used in catching fish; if mixed with the water in some convenient part of a river or creek, whence its influence may spread, in a short time the fish that lie under the rocks or banks rise to the surface, where they float as if dead. Fish caught in this manner are eaten without hesitation, and are not considered unwholesome.
The bark of the root, to be effectual, should be gathered during the period of inflorescence. "When chewed it has an unpleasant taste. It yields its virtues to alcohol, but not to water. A saturated tincture prepared from the bark is used as an anodyne in toothache, and found very efficacious, not only affording relief when taken internally, but uniformly curing the pain when introduced upon a dossil of cotton into the tooth.
The preparation of the bark for the sport of fish-catching is as follows: Being detached from the roots, it is mashed up with what is termed in the West Indies temper lime and the low wines or lees of the still-house, and the mixture distributed into small baskets, from which it is gradually washed out by persons holding the baskets in the water, no doubt with the certainty of stupefying or narcotizing a large number of fishes. Most of the larger fishes recover after a time from the influences of the drug, but a great sacrifice of the smaller ones is occasioned by the process. It has been observed that the eel is the only fish that could not be intoxicated with a common dose.
Experiments have demonstrated the power of this drug, in large doses, to produce prompt paralysis of the motor nerves, while it does not affect the seat of intelligence nor the great centres of innervation.