Tenerife herbs: Silk Vine or Cornical is an unusual medicinal herb of Tenerife and the Canary Islands

Photos of Cornical

Cornical with seed pods Photo by Steve Andrews
Cornical with seed pods Photo by Steve Andrews

Silk Vine or Cornical - an unusual climber

Silk Vine (Periploca laevigata) gets its name because of its seeds which have silky hairs attached to them to aid in distribution by the wind and also because it is a climbing plant. It is found in Tenerife and all the other Canary Islands and is known as Cornical in addition to its English name. It has strange looking seed-pods.

Cornical is a medicinal herb that has been used in Canary Islands herbal medicine and it has some unusual uses.

More about the Silk Vine

Silk Vine or Cornical is a member of the Asclepiadaceae or Milkweed family and like many other species in this group of plants it bleeds a white latex. It is a common plant found growing in the arid semi-desert areas of the islands where it scrambles and climbs over other vegetation.

Although it carries the characteristic "milk" that the family is known for and identified by, the caterpillars of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) will not eat this plant although they feed on species of Milkweed.

Medicinal properties

The Cornical is particularly fond of growing amongst and over the succulent cactus-like stems of the Cardón (Euphorbia canariensis), and amazingly it has been used as an antidote to the latex burns produced by the latter plant which is a member of the Spurge family. Both plants have a white milky juice in their stems but the Cornical has anti-inflammatory properties and in traditional Canary Islands folk medicine has been used as a remedy for burns caused by the Cardón's poisonous and acrid latex.

The Silk Vine is made into an infusion. It is also of use as a remedy for the burning caused by other plants in the Euphorbia family including the "Tabaibas" E. regis-jubae and E. broussonetii.

Cornical is also said to have purgative properties.

Its long flexible stems twine around other plants and whatever it comes up against as it grows and it bears bunches of tiny greenish star-shaped flowers. These flowers eventually produce strange two-horned seed pods that contain hundreds of the fluffy seeds which are dispersed in the wind when the pods dry out and are fully ripened.

These pods can be as much as 12 cm in length. The seeds themselves can often be seen carried by air currents as they float about randomly in search of a place to settle and germinate. This means of distributing its seeds around the island has worked exceedingly well for this unusual plant.

The Cornical is a common sight in much of the lower and coastal areas of the islands and is unmistakable because of its growing habits and weird-looking seed pods. You will find it twining its way up and over whatever stands in its way. You will be able to identify it by its habits and its pointed seed-pods. There's nothing else quite like it on Tenerife.

© 2011 Steve Andrews

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