What is Apocynaceae?

Anna Harrison

The Apocynaceae family consists of hundreds of different types of plants, including large flowering trees and shrubs, as well as lianas and flowering herbs. Most of these are native to tropical areas throughout the world, but there are some that live in temperate climates. They have a milky sap in their stems that is poisonous, particularly to dogs. This group of plants is more commonly known as dogbane or periwinkle. Oleander, mandevilla, vinca, and frangipani all belong to the Apocynaceae genus.

The apocynaceae genus has poisonous sap.
The apocynaceae genus has poisonous sap.

Most of the plants in this family of plants have deciduous leaves growing opposite on the stem, although they do grow alternately on a few species. Some are succulents and have no leaves at all. The five-petaled flowers each have five stamens and tend to grow in clusters. They bloom in many different colors and sizes. Seeds can be either small and tufted larger and woody.

The frangipani, or plumeria, is a member of the Apocynaceae genus.
The frangipani, or plumeria, is a member of the Apocynaceae genus.

All members of the Apocynaceae family grow best in full sunlight and rich soil. They need plenty of water, but established, mature plants will survive during times of drought. Less water is required in winter, when these plants are not actively growing.

There are several varieties of Apocynaceae that grow in cold winter areas including some oleanders and asclepias. Many flowering shrubs, such as adenium and frangipani, can be pruned to make great houseplants. Others are large trees which will only grow in locations with a very warm climate. Smaller species such as dwarf jasmine can be planted outdoors in temperate areas if they are overwintered indoors. The bare roots can be stored in a cool, dark place for the winter or they can be potted up and kept as houseplants until spring.

A heated greenhouse provides the perfect environment for growing most types of Apocynaceae. They tend to thrive in the controlled temperature and humidity these structures provide. Greenhouses also provide the best light exposure for these sun loving plants.

These plants are easy to propagate by both seeds and cuttings. The seeds may germinate better if they are scarified before planting. This simply means to scrape off a portion of the shell to reveal the inner part of the seed. They may also benefit from soaking in water for a few hours. Plants that are started from seed tend to grow slower than those grown from cuttings. Cuttings can be dipped in root hormone powder to encourage rooting and should be kept moist until well rooted.

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