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A spreading, round-headed, deciduous shrub, usually 6 to 10 ft high in this country, but capable of growing twice as high; young shoots brown, downy, becoming smooth and grey with age; armed with stiff spines 1⁄2 in. or less long, in pairs. Leaves pinnate, 6 to 8 in. long with usually five to eleven, but sometimes thirteen, leaflets, often with one or two spines on the main-stalk where the leaflets are attached. Leaflets 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. long, ovate or oval, downy beneath especially on the midrib, minutely or not at all toothed. Flowers crowded at the joints of the previous season’s shoots, very small, yellowish green. Fruit a blackish, fragrant, two-valved capsule; seeds black and shining.
Native of the eastern United States; introduced during the middle years of the 18th century. This shrub is said to have been at one time common in gardens; it is no longer so. The bark and capsules have a pungent, acrid taste, and one of the popular names is given because they have been chewed to alleviate toothache. It is very easily distinguished from the other species here included by the very downy under-surface of the leaves.