Sunday, March 23, 2014

OXENBLOOD’S CYCLOPEDIUM OF AUSTRALIA, 1931


Canthium

Canthium are a large genus of the family Rubiaceae, consisting of shrubs often arborescent and typically tropical. The flowers are in clusters; calyx-toothed, corolla-tube short and four lobed. Their fruit is a compressed, globular drupe with one or two stone-like seeds.
            In the late 19th century it was fashionable amongst fops, cads and women to wear a canthium buxifolium (owl-head tree) by the breast pocket, or any other enclosure in which breasts were kept. Such an adornment would signal to others in the know that the wearer was either an invert or a milkman; later, the Royal Commission for Extremely Secret Signals (1911) forced the milkman to demonstrate their secret shame with a sprig of Beefwood fixed raffishly behind the ear with a drawing pin. The heady days of the canthiestes were, however, the 1890s, when decadence and gallantry were happy bedmates. There was even a club in the heart of Punchbowl, Sydney’s bohemian district at this time, at which all the furniture was made from canthium lucidum, a nicely-marked yellow wood. In the midst of a sinful waltz, pale-faced young men with dreamy, opiated expressions would lightly beat their bad chums with planks of pinkish, darkly-streaked canthium latifolium. Many of the attendees at soirees or singing-dinners at this club – known locally as the Globular Drupe – are now respectable bishops in regional churches around the country. They prefer to spend their time in ministering to the masses and assisting the compilers of Cyclopedia, rather than dream of those hot, hot nights grasping a piece of rough-hewn canthium coprosmoides (box-face wormwood) in the left hand, a crystal goblet of absinthe and cola in the right, and trying to remember the first seven lines in the captions to the cartoons in Punch while deciphering the last nine.
            Canthium branches are sometimes thorny. In addition to the woods mentioned above, Canthium Buxifolium is a light-coloured wood; the wood of Canthium Oleifolium is capable of a high polish, as a certain senior cleric in western Victoria is well aware. 

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