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Plant of the Month: February 2015

Vinca minor L.
Vinca major L.
APOCYNACEÆ ; Dogbane Family

In Seattle, the two evergreen ground cover plants known as Periwinkle, are common and familiar. Both are from S Europe and adjacent N Africa and W Asia; both are found sometimes naturalized here. Both exist in varied cultivars.
    The genus Vinca consists of 5 species, all in the Old World. Over 50 alkaloids so far have been found in the plants. They have had a long history of being used medicinally.
    The two species differ in both size and habitat: Vinca minor is dwarf, hairless, and thrives in shade only; its flowers measure from three-forths to 1 and one-forth of an inch wide. In contrast, Vinca major is large, minutely hairy, and though tolerant of shade, also thrives in full sun; its flowers measure 1 and one-forth to 2 and one-forth of an inch wide. Both are sold widely at nurseries, propagated by starts. I have never noticed a Vinca seedling in Seattle.
    Due to many people favoring native plants, much of Seattle's wild Periwinkle has been eliminated in recent years, but it is still common and found easily.

Vinca minor (Common, Lesser, Smaller or Dwarf Periwinkle. Running or Creeping Myrtle)
    Over 40 cultivars named:
'Alba Variegata'
'Argenteovariegata' = 'Vaiegata'
'Atropurpurea' = 'Purpurea' = 'Rubra'
'Aureovariegata' = 'Yellow Blotch'
'Azurea Flore Pleno'
'Blue and Gold'
'Blue Cloud'
'Blue Drift'
'Blue Moon'
'Bright Eyes'
'Chateau de Spesbourg'
'Dart's Blue'
'Double Blue'
'Flower Power'
'Gertrude Jekyll'
'Giant Steps'
'Grüner Teppich' = 'Green Carpet'
'La Grave' = 'Bowles'
'Little Pinkie'
'Marion Cran'
'Multiplex' = 'Double Burgundy'
'Oland Blue'
'Persian Carpet'
'Ralph Shugert'
'Silver Service'
'Spring Morning'
'Sterling Silver'
'Valley Glow'
'White Gold'
'Willie Winkle'

Vinca major (Greater or Bigleaf Periwinkle. Blue Buttons)
    Fewer cultivars:
'Caucasian Blue'
'Jason Hill'
var. oxyloba 'Dartington Star'
'Surrey Marble'
'Variegata' = 'Elegantissima'
'Wojo's Gem'

    Odds are some of the names cited above are synonyms --besides the ones so indicated.
    No written accounts that I have encountered, reports humans consuming these two Vinca plants as food. But around 1980, I was informed that a Seattle man ate the flowers. I have tasted Periwinkle flowers and find that in both texture and flavor they are astonishingly similar to dandelion greens. Most people prefer edible flowers that are variously bland, sweet, sour, peppery or frankly anything but bitter. Yet the Vinca corolla is likely to be healthy as a garnish, and is certainly not harmful despite the plants being listed often in "poisonous" plant lists. The website states: "There is no reason to consider Vinca major poisonous. Confusion between it and Catharanthus rosea (formerly Vinca rosea) leads to its inclusion in poison plant lists."
    Whether the main human usage of these two Periwinkle plants is medicinal, or ornamental, I do not know. Doubtless, gardeners who admire the plants for their appearance may not be aware of the medical usage; and people using the alkaloids for health may not know that the plants are attractive and grown easily in gardens and in pots and hanging baskets.
    The main Vinca alkaloid --as regards these two species-- is called vincamine and its derivative vinpocetine. Below are a three quotes about it:

    "So far, more than 50 alkaloids of indole type have been isolated from the aerial parts and the root. A large body of clinical evidence indicates a favorable effect of vincamine in a number of brain disorders of elderly patients, such as memory disturbances, vertigo, transient ischemic deficits, and headache. It increases cerebral blood flow, oxygen consumption and glucose utilization. Content of alkaloids reaches its maximum at the flowering stage (May to September). Vincamine, the pharmacologically most valuable alkaloid of Vinca minor so far, shows pronounced cerebrovasodilatory activity and acts as a regulator of cerebral blood circulation. Vincamine and its derivatives are marketed by some pharmaceutical companies in Europe and Japan as a cerebral vasodilator." [Phytochemical Investigation of Vinca minor Cultivated in Iran by Behnaz Farahanikia et al. in Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research 10(4) Autumn 2011].

    "Vinpocetine is a vinca alkaloid semi-synthetically derived from vincamine. These alkaloids are extracted from Vinca minor. There are actually over 50 alkaloids presents in Vinca minor, of which vinpocetine is thought to be the superior and most researched compound, due to low its low toxicity and reported benefits. Additionally, it is reported to be better than vincamine at improving memory and circulation in the brain." [ Vinpocetine: The Neural Antioxidant Nootropic ; post May 11 2012].

    "Widely used in many countries for the preventive treatment of cognitive impairment, including stroke, senile dementia, and memory disturbances. For instance, different types of vinpocetine-containing memory enhancers are currently used as dietary supplements. To date, there have been no reports of significant side effects, toxicity, or contraindications at therapeutic doses of vinpocetine. Mechanistically, vinpocetine acts as a cerebral vasodilator that improves brain blood flow. Vinpocetine has also been shown to act as a cerebral metabolic enhancer by increasing oxygen and glucose uptake from blood and stimulating neuronal ATP production." [Vinpocetine Suppresses Pathological Vascular Remodeling by Inhibiting Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Proliferation and Migration by Yujan Cai et al. in Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 343(2) Nov. 2012].

    Whether Periwinkle flowers contain any vincamine I did not learn. If so, surely little compared to the leaves. If one reads old books, several amusing superstitions and customs about Periwinkle are found.
    Below I share 6 photographs, taken in Seattle in February 2014. The plants began blooming earlier than normal this year.

ordinary Vinca minor

ordinary Vinca minor; photo by ALJ

white-flowered Vinca minor

white-flowered Vinca minor; photo by ALJ

Vinca minor silver variegated

Vinca minor silver variegated; photo by ALJ

Vinca minor gold variegated

Vinca minor gold variegated; photo by ALJ

ordinary Vinca major

ordinary Vinca major; photo by ALJ

silver variegated Vinca major

silver variegated Vinca major; photo by ALJ

Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
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