madder, common name for the Rubiaceae, a family of chiefly tropical and subtropical trees, shrubs, and herbs, especially abundant in N South America. The family is important economically for several tropical crops, e.g., coffee, quinine, and ipecac, and for many ornamentals, e.g., the gardenia, bluet, madder, bedstraw, and partridgeberry. Coffee beans come from several species of the genus Coffea, bushes and trees of the Old World tropics; many are African. The medicine quinine comes from the bark of evergreen trees (cinchona) native to the Andes. The drug ipecac, or ipecacuanha, is obtained from the dried rhizomes and roots of Psychotria (Cephaëlis) ipecacuanha and related species, shrubby herbaceous perennials of tropical forests in Central and South America. Madder ( Rubia tinctorum ), also called turkey red, is an Old World dye plant native to S Europe. The herb's long fleshy root was the principal source of various fast, brilliant red dye pigments until artificial production of alizarin, the color principle of madder. The plant was known to ancient peoples—madder-dyed cloth has been found in Egyptian mummy cases—and was cultivated in the East for centuries and in Europe from the late Middle Ages. Madder and the two major sources of blue pigment, indigo and woad, were the most important dye plants until the development of synthetic aniline dyes in the 19th cent. Gardenias [for Scottish-American naturalist Alexander Garden] are evergreen shrubs and trees (genus Gardenia ) of the Old World subtropics. Most of the cultivated types are varieties of G. jasminoides, called also Cape jasmine but unrelated to the true jasmine. The heavily fragrant and showy blossoms make gardenias popular corsage and greenhouse plants. Several native North American wildflowers belong to the madder family. The bedstraws (species of Galium, an almost cosmopolitan weed) were formerly used for mattress filling because of their pleasing odor. The partridgeberry, or squawberry ( Mitchella repens ), is a small, trailing evergreen plant with scarlet berrylike fruits sometimes used medicinally or for winter decorations. The bluet ( Houstonia caerulea ) is a favorite spring flower of open woods and grassy meadows in the Northeast. Called also innocence and quaker-ladies, it has a distinctive tiny four-petaled blue flower. Other species of Houstonia, as well as the unrelated cornflower, are also called bluets. Phylogenetically, the madder family is closely related to the honeysuckle family. The madder family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rubiales.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.