Vivacious Vinca

Hot! Hot! Hot! That is just how Vincas like it. It is the perfect plant for an African summer garden. Particularly well suited to the Cape summers, this bright and bold annual is an outstanding performer and is still standing tall where most others are wilting from the heat.

Cartharanthus roseus, also known as the Madagascar or Cape Periwinkle, is the botanical name for what we know as Vinca. It is native to Madagascar with cultivars now naturalised around the world. In the sub tropical regions of South Africa, Vincas can be used as a perennial, however in the frost regions it is grown and used as an annual as it does not appreciate cold temperatures and will succumb to frost.

Vinca1-smallVincas are herbaceous, with the lower part of the stem becoming semi woody as the plant matures. As an annual the Vinca plant grows to a height of no more than 30-35cm with a spread of about the same. The stems are fairly rigid and upright, bearing opposite, glossy leaves that are bright green in colour. The leaf has a very distinctive lime green coloured central vein running through it. The leaf edge is smooth.

The flowers are very simple in construction. Comprising of five petals the flower looks similar to that of the blades of an electrical fan. The colour palette is made up primarily of shades and variations of pink and rose, although you will find lavender, purple, orange, red and white as well. Many of the flowers have a central “eye” that is contrasting in colour to the petals. The most common and popular Vinca is Peppermint or Bright Eye – white petals with a red eye.

Vincas are versatile and can be used in the flowerbed, either as edging or a taller ground cover. They are particularly good for containers and baskets due to their drought tolerance.

Vincas are also grown commercially for the medical world. They contain many toxic and useful alkaloids. The plant has been and still is in many parts of the world, used to treat diabetes, blood pressure, asthma and constipation. More recently and more significantly however the Vinca is being used as treatment for various cancers. It is a modern day success story with regards to this endeavour.

It is important to note that this comes with a very serious warning: Vincas are poisonous and should not to be used in any home remedy!

 

Plant your Vincas in full sun in poor but well draining soil. If the soil is too fertile it may inhibit flowering. If the seedling is too leggy, pinch the tip and this will encourage side shoots which give you a fuller, sturdier plant. Once established it is important not to overwater this plant – they really do prefer drought conditions. On particularly hot, dry days the leaves may curl, but they will return to normal when the evening temperatures drop. Vincas are low maintenance. No dead heading is required, the flower drops as soon as it dies. Restrict feeding to once every 8-10 weeks.

There are virtually no pests that bother Vincas however as young seedlings they may attract the attention of slugs and snails.

Vincas are susceptible to stem rot and leaf spot if the conditions are too wet.

Vincas are such an easy plant to grow no summer garden should be without them. Their boldly coloured flowers will brighten the dullest of beds and once the plants are established, they need only your admiration and praise.

 

Did you know:

Like all plants in the dogbane family, the sap of the Vinca is milky?

 

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