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A deciduous shrub 4 to 6 ft high, of bushy habit, sending up from the base rather erect, angular, more or less four-sided stems, which the following year carry graceful, slender, twiggy shoots. Leaves opposite, in pairs, occasionally in threes; quite glabrous, entire, ovate, pointed, three-nerved, 1 to 21⁄2 in. long, very short-stalked, glaucous green. Flowers small, greenish, produced during the summer from the joints of the previous year’s growths in racemes about 1 in. long. The petals, after becoming thick, fleshy, and juicy, turn black and shining; they and the fruit they enclose, 1⁄4 in. across.
Native of the Mediterranean region, especially in the south of France, where it is often the first wild plant to reoccupy plots of ground abandoned from cultivation. It is fairly hardy in the London district, but is killed in very hard winters. When in full growth, which is rather late in the season, it is distinctly handsome in the graceful disposition of its glaucous leaves and branches. It flowers freely, but does not set fruit well in this country.
Both the leaves and fruits are poisonous, the latter especially so, producing, when eaten, convulsions similar to those caused by strychnine. Various animals, even goats, are sometimes poisoned by the leaves; the fruits, macerated in sweet water, make an excellent fly-poison. The leaves are rich in tannin, and are used for curing leather and for making ink; they also yield a black dye. Introduced to England in 1629.