Hin: Sadabahar, Baramassi;
Mal: Ushamalari, Nityakalyani
Tam: Sudukattu mallikai; Pun: Rattanjot;
Kan: Kasikanigale, Nitya Mallige
Importance: Periwinkle or Vinca is an erect handsome herbaceous perennial plant which is a chief source of patented cancer and hypotensive drugs. It is one of the very few medicinal plants which has a long history of uses as diuretic, antidysenteric, haemorrhagic and antiseptic. It is known for use in the treatment of diabetes in Jamaica and India. The alkaloids vinblastine and vincristine present in the leaves are recognized as anticancerous drugs. Vinblastine in the form of vinblastin sulphate is available in market under the trade name “VELBE” and Vincristine sulphate as “ONCOVIN” (Eli Lilly). Vinblastine is used in combination with other anticancer agents for the treatment of lymphocytic lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, testicular carcinoma and choriocarcinoma. Vincristine is used in acute leukemia, lymphosarcoma and Wilm’s tumour. Its roots are a major source of the alkaloids, raubasine (ajmalicine), reserpine and serpentine used in the preparation of antifibrillic and hypertension-relieving drugs. It is useful in the treatment of choriocarcinoma and Hodgkin’s disease-a cancer affecting lymph glands, spleen and liver. Its leaves are used for curing diabetes, menorrhagia and wasp stings. Root is tonic, stomachic, hypotensive, sedative and tranquilliser (Narayana and Dimri,1990).
Distribution: The plant is a native of Madagascar and hence the name Madagascar Periwinkle. It is distributed in West Indies, Mozambique, South Vi etnam, Sri Lanka , Philippines and Australia. It is well adapted to diverse agroclimatic situations prevalent in India and is commercially cultivated in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Assam. USA, Hungary, West Germany, Italy, Netherlands and UK are the major consumers.
Botany: Catharanthus roseus (Linn.) G.Don.
syn. Vinca rosea Linn. belongs to the family Apocynaceae. It is an erect highly branched lactiferous perennial herb growing up to a height of one metre. Leaves are oblong or ovate, opposite, short-petioled, smooth with entire margin. Flowers are borne on axils in pairs. There are three flower colour types , pink, pink-eyed and white. Calyx with 5 sepal, green, linear, subulate. Corolla tube is cylindrical with 5 petals, rose-purple or white with rose-purple spot in the centre; throat of corolla tube hairy, forming a corona-like structure. The anthers are epipetalous borne on short filaments inside the bulging distal end of corolla tube converging conically above the stigma. Two characteristic secretary systems, namely a column like nectarium on both sides of pistil and a secretory cringulam circling the papillate stigma with a presumed role in pollination – fecundation process are present. Ovary bicarpellary, basally distinct with fused common style and stigma. The dehiscent fruit consists of a pair of follicles each measuring about 25 mm in length and 2.3 mm in diameter, containing up to thirty linearly arranged seeds with a thin black tegumen. On maturity, the follicles split along the length dehiscing the seeds.
Agrotechnology: Periwinkle grows well under tropical and subtropical climate. A well distributed rainfall of 1000 mm or more is ideal. In north India the low winter temperatures adversely affect the crop growth. It can grow on any type of soil ,except those which are highly saline, alkaline or waterlogged. Light soils, rich in humus are preferable for large scale cultivation since harvesting of the roots become easy.
Catharanthus is propagated by seeds. Fresh seeds should be used since they are short-viable. Seeds can be either sown directly in the field or in a nursery and then transplanted. Seed rate is 2.5 kg/ha for direct sowing and the seeds are drilled in rows 45 cm apart or broadcasted. For transplanted crop the seed rate is 500gm/ha. Seeds are sown in nursery and transplanted at 45x 30cm spacing after 60 days when the seedlings attain a height of 15-20cm Nursery is prepared two months in advance so that transplanting coincides with the on set of monsoons. Application of FYM at the rate of 15 t/ha is recommended. An alternate approach is to grow leguminous green manure crops and incorporate the same into the soil at flowering stage. Fertilisers are recommended at 80:40:40 kg N:P2O5:K2O/ha for irrigated crop and 60:30:30 kg/ha for rainfed crop. N is applied in three equal splits at planting and at 45 and 90 days after planting. 4 or 5 irrigations will be needed to optimise yield when rainfall is restricted. Fortnightly irrigations support good crop growth when the crop is grown exclusively as an irrigated crop. Weeding is carried out before each topdressing. Alternatively, use of fluchloraline at 0.75 kg a.i. /ha pre-plant or alachlor at 1.0 kg a.i. per ha as pre-emergence to weeds provides effective control of a wide range of weeds in periwinkle crop. Detopping of plants by 2cm at 50% flowering stage improves root yield and alkaloid contents. No major pests, other than Oleander hawk moth, have been reported in this crop. Fungal diseases like twig blight (top rot or dieback) caused by Phytophthora nicotianae., Pythium debaryanum, P. butleri and P. aphanidermatum; leaf spot due to Alternaria tenuissima, A. alternata, Rhizoctonia solani and Ophiobolus catharanthicola and foot-rot and wilt by Sclerotium rolfsii and Fusarium solani have been reported. However, the damage to the crop is not very serious. Three virus diseases causing different types of mosaic symptoms and a phyllody or little leaf disease due to mycoplasma -like organisms have also been reported; the spread of which could be checked by uprooting and destroying the affected plants.
The crop allows 3-4 clippings of foliage beginning from 6 months. The flowering stage is ideal for collection of roots with high alkaloid content. The crop is cut about 7 cm above the ground and dried for stem, leaf and seed. The field is irrigated, ploughed and roots are collected. The average yields of leaf, stem and root are 3.6, 1.5and 1.5 t/ha, respectively under irrigated conditions and 2.0, 1.0 and 0.75t/ha, respectively under rainfed conditions on air dry basis. The harvested stem and roots loose 80% and 70% of their weight, respectively. The crop comes up well as an undercrop in eucalyptus plantation in north India. In north western India a two year crop sequence of periwinkle-senna-mustard or periwinkle-senna- coriander are recommended for higher net returns and productivity (Krishnan,1995).
Properties and activity: More than 100 alkaloids and related compounds have so far been isolated and characterised from the plant. The alkaloid contents in different parts show large variations as roots 0.14-1.34%, stem 0.074-0.48%, leaves 0.32-1.16%, flowers 0.005-0.84%, fruits 0.40%, seeds 0.18% and pericarp 1.14% (Krishnan et al, 1983). These alkaloids includes monomeric indole alkaloids, 2-acyl indoles, oxindole, -methylene indolines, dihydroindoles, bisindole and others. Dry leaves contain vinblastine (vincaleucoblastine or VLB) 0.00013-0.00063%, and vincristine (leurocristine or LC) 0.0000003-0.0000153% which have anticancerous activity (Virmani et al, 1978). Other alkaloids reported are vincoside, isovincoside (strictosidine), catharanthine, vindolinine, lochrovicine, vincolidine, ajmalicine (raubasine), reserpine, serpentine, leurosine, lochnerine, tetrahydroalstonine, vindoline, pericalline, perivine, periformyline, perividine, carosine, leurosivine, leurosidine and rovidine. The different alkaloids possessed anticancerous, antidiabetic, diuretic, antihypertensive, antimicrobial, antidysenteric, haemorrhagic, antifibrillic, tonic, stomachic, sedative and tranquillising activities.