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It has been used medicinally for a wide variety of ailments, and its aroma makes calamus essential oil valued in the perfume industry.The essence from the rhizome is used as a flavor for pipe tobacco.The Bible mentions its use in the holy anointing oil ( Exodus 30: 23).Although probably not native to Egypt, this plant was already mentioned in the Chester Beatty papyrus VI dating to approximately 1300 BC.According to Heng Li, Guanghua Zhu and Josef Bogner in the Flora of China there is clear overlap in these characteristics and the different cytotypes are impossible to distinguish morphologically.The tetraploid variety is usually known as Acorus calamus var. A number of synonyms are known, but a number are contested as to which variety they belong.It is morphologically diverse, with some forms having very broad and some narrow leaves.

According to Thompson the primary morphological distinction between the triploid and the North American forms of the diploid is made by the number of prominent leaf veins, the diploid having a single prominent midvein and on both sides of this equally raised secondary veins, the triploid having a single prominent midvein with the secondary veins barely distinct.

The Arabic word قَلَم (qálam, meaning "pen") and Sanskrit कलम (kaláma, meaning "reed used as a pen", and a sort of rice) are thought to have been borrowed from Greek. dissertation and in her 2000 entry in the Flora of North America considers the diploid form to be a distinct species.

Currently the taxonomic position of these forms is contested. Thompson only analyses North American forms of the diploid variety in her treatment, and does not analyse the morphology of Asian forms of the diploid variety.

Thus the Herbarius zu Teutsch, published at Mainz in 1485, describes and includes a woodcut of this iris under the name Acorus.

This German book is one of three possible sources for the French Le Grant Herbier, written in 1486, 1488, 1498 or 1508, of which an English translation was published as the Grete Herball by Peter Treveris in 1526, all containing the false identification of the Herbarius zu Teutsch.

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