Well, it's springtime now, and I know all of you are thinking the same thought. (NO! Not that one!) You're asking yourself, what kind of flowers should I plant this year? You want to be able to look out your noding window (you do have a noding window, don't you?) and feast your eyes on some beautiful blossoms every once in a while, don't you? Sure you do.

If your flower bed is in the full sun most of the day, like mine, there's a couple of good options. Petunias are good-looking flowers, but they tend to get leggy later in the summer and they don't look nice when they are wearing down. They tend to do better in a pot or a hanging basket. Also, they don't make good anal retentive rows like some flowers. And I know most of you folks in here are so anal retentive that you could suck the vinyl off a barcolounger. So you might like the kind of flowers I planted today.

My favorite is the periwinkle. Pinks, reds, whites; mix 'em up. You may find them under their botanical name, Vinca. They're in the dogbane family (Apocynaceae). The name periwinkle is possibly taken from pervinka, the Russian name of the flower, which in turn is derived from pervi, "first," as it is one of the first flowers of spring. They tend to stay pretty almost all summer long, and they love the sun.

Catharanthus roseus is known as the common or Madagascar periwinkle, though its name and classification may be contradictory in some literature because this plant was formerly classified as the species Vinca rosea, Lochnera rosea and Ammocallis rosea. Furthermore, lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) may also be called common periwinkle. Both species are also known as myrtle.

In any case, Catharanthus roseus is a perennial, evergreen herb and was originally native to the island of Madagascar. It has been widely cultivated for hundreds of years and can now be found growing wild in most warm regions of the world, including the Southern U.S. The plants grow one or two feet high, have glossy, dark green leaves (1-2 inches long) and flowers all summer long. The blooms of the natural wild plants are a pale pink with a purple "eye" in their centers, but horticulturists have developed varieties with colors ranging from white to hot pink to purple. Like dannye says, they're extremely pretty.

The plant has historically been used to treat a wide assortment of diseases. It was used as a folk remedy for diabetes in Europe for centuries. In India, juice from the leaves was used to treat wasp stings. In Hawaii, the plant was boiled to make a poultice to stop bleeding. In China, it was used as an astringent, diuretic and cough remedy. In Central and South America, it was used as a homemade cold remedy to ease lung congestion and inflammation and sore throats. Throughout the Caribbean, an extract from the flowers was used to make a solution to treat eye irritation and infections.

It also had a reputation as a magic plant; Europeans thought it could ward off evil spirits, and the French referred to it as "violet of the sorcerers."

Western researchers finally noticed the plant in the 1950's when they learned of a tea Jamaicans were drinking to treat diabetes. They discovered the plant contains a motherlode of useful alkaloids (70 in all at last count). Some, such as catharanthine, leurosine sulphate, lochnerine, tetrahydroalstonine, vindoline and vindolinine lower blood sugar levels (thus easing the symptoms of diabetes). Others lower blood pressure, others act as hemostatics (arrest bleeding) and two others, vincristine and vinblastine, have anticancer properties. Periwinkles also contain the alkaloids reserpine and serpentine, which are powerful tranquilizers.

Because the alkaloids in this plant can have serious side effects such as nausea and hair loss, it is not recommended that people attempt to medicate themselves with periwinkles.


References:

Dobelis, Inge N., ed. 1989. Magic and Medicine of Plants. Pleasantville, NY, Reader's Digest Books.

Heywood, V.H., ed. 1993. Flowering Plants of the World. New York, NY, Oxford University Press.

Simpson, Beryl Brintnall and Molly Conner-Ogorzaly. 1986. Economic Botany: Plants in Our World. New York, NY, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co.

Per"i*win`kle (?), n. [From AS. pinewincla a shellfish, in which pine- is fr. L. pina, pinna, a kind of mussel, akin to Gr. . Cf. Winkle.] Zool.

Any small marine gastropod shell of the genus Littorina. The common European species (Littorina littorea), in Europe extensively used as food, has recently become naturalized abundantly on the American coast. See Littorina.

⇒ In America the name is often applied to several large univalves, as Fulgur carica, and F. canaliculata.

 

© Webster 1913.


Per"i*win`kle, n. [OE. pervenke, AS. pervince, fr. L. pervinca.] Bot.

A trailing herb of the genus Vinca.

⇒ The common perwinkle (Vinca minor) has opposite evergreen leaves and solitary blue or white flowers in their axils. In America it is often miscalled myrtle. See under Myrtle.

 

© Webster 1913.

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