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What is a Madagascar Periwinkle?

Light pink bright red madagascar periwinkle flowers in full bloom growing amongst glossy green leaves

Catharanthus Roseus

Part of the botanical family apocynaceae and the genus catharanthus, the madagascar periwinkle is a plant that is not only valued for its ornamental quality, but for its medicinal quality as well. This superstar of a plant also goes by the names of bright eyes, Cape periwinkle, graveyard plant, old maid, pink periwinkle, and rosy periwinkle.

The Madagascar periwinkle was once a member of the genus vinca rosea, which is comprised of 8 known species of periwinkle plants. The scientific term catharanthus, comes from the greek work “pure flower”.

Catharanthus roseus has been naturalized all over the world in most tropical and subtropical regions, though it is endemic to Madagascar (indicated by its common name). They’re planted as ornamental plants mostly in modern times, though they had significant impacts as a medicinal plant as well.

This plant does require a rather warm growing region, and so if this isn’t the case for you, you may be interested in incorporating another plant species in your garden! Head on over to our list of Marvellous Flowering Plants from all over the world where you’ll surely find the right match.

Related: Types of Red Flowers | Types of Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet | Types of Flower Colors

Single Fuschia colored madagascar periwinkle flower in full bloom growing at the end of a stem around glossy green leaves

What do Madagascar Periwinkle Plants Look Like?

Flowers

The Madagascar periwinkle is a flower that is borne solitary in a leaf axil. Each calyx comes equipped with 5 narrow and long lobes that meat into a tubular throat. Depending on the flower cultivar, flowers can be borne in a variety of colors; from pink, to red, to lilac, to white, or even lightly colored bodies with dark throats.

The periwinkle flower is known for having a wonderfully long blooming period. In more tropical regions it can keep its flowers for almost the entire year, whereas in more temperate climates it can bloom from early spring until late autumn.

Leaves

Madagascar periwinkle leaves are oppositely arranged in pairs along their stems. Foliage is a glossy green color with a short petiole and a pale, indistinct midrib. Each leaf is either an ovate or oblong shape, and can be anywhere between 1 and 4 inches long, and 0 and 2 inches broad.

Growth Pattern

The Madagascar periwinkle plant is an evergreen subshrub or herbaceous plant. It is planted as annual in most regions, as it is not a very cold hardy plant.

Depending on the cultivar, they can grow erect and up to 1 metre in height, or as a spreading mound up to 18 inches in height and just as wide. They usually grow into an attractive bushy shape.

Four different kinds of madagascar periwinkle flowers in light pink hot pink red growing as subshrubs

Where do Madagascar Periwinkle Plants Grow?

The Madagascar periwinkle plant is endemic to Madagascar, though since its wild cultivation it has been naturalized in tropical and subtropical places all over the world. Places like Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and Pakistan have all made the plant a local favorite, though in Australia they are so prosperous they’ve been labelled a noxious weed!

Though they grow wonderfully as a cultivated plant, they are actually endangered when it comes to growing naturally in the wild. This is because their natural habitats are subjected to a new implementation of seasonal burns, which this plant has not been able to adapt to.

Madagascar periwinkles are appreciated for their ability to exist in the not-most-favorable of conditions. They are capable of growing in nutritionally deficient soils and dry zones. They grow in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11.

Sun shining through beautiful light pink madagascar periwinkle flowers growing in the wild in a tropical forest

How do you Propagate a Madagascar Periwinkle?

Propagating a Madagascar periwinkle is rather straight forward. It can be either through sowing seeds or by selecting a root cutting. Keep in mind that the following tips are intended for outdoor propagation in warm climates. If you live in a colder climate, these plants should be kept indoors in a sunny window.

Seed Propagation

If you’re interesting in growing Madagascar periwinkle right from seed, sow seeds in the early spring (usually around March). Waiting until temperatures are between 55 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit is a good indicator of when seeds should be sown.

If starting seeds indoor, plant them in their planting pots a good 12-16 weeks before the estimated last frost of the year, that way they will be ready to be planted outside as soon as its warm out.

Seeds should be planted at least 12 inches apart from one another in loose and well drained soil. They perform very well in sandy loam soil. In this phase of life they will need quite a bit of moisture — but avoid watering overhead as this can dislodge the sensitive seedlings!

Cutting Propagation

There are two different times of year when Madagascar periwinkle cuttings can be taken. Either in the late spring where you can harvest softwood cuttings, or in mid summer where you can harvest semi-ripe cuttings.

The main difference between seed propagation and root cutting propagation is that a seed will grow a genetically different plant, whereas a cutting propagate will have the same genetic makeup as the mother plant, like a clone.

With this in mind, ensure you choose a cutting from a very healthy looking and robust plant. The cutting should have a handful of leaves established on it, but no blossoms or buds.

The cutting should take root in 3-4 weeks, where it can then be planted in a partial shade location on your property. In this phase of life it should have consistently moist soil conditions.

Low shrubs of the madagascar periwinkle plant with very light pink flowers and red throated centre growing among some low boulders

What are the Growing Conditions of Madagascar Periwinkles?

Soil Type

Though the Madagascar periwinkle is capable of tolerating some pretty harsh conditions, it does experience more prosperous growth in specific soil types. They perform very well in well drained soil that is moderately fertile — the absolute best option being sandy soil or sandy loam soil.

Sun Exposure

Madagascar periwinkles can tolerate partial shade, though they prefer to exist in full sun conditions. They love direct sunlight and they love the summer heat.

Temperature

The Madagascar periwinkle is not a particularly cold hardy plant, and can only tolerate USDA growing zones 10 and 11. They can exist happily in places where the temperature doesn’t fall below 41 degrees Fahrenheit regularly.

Their seedlings have rather specific temperature requirements as well, where it is best to wait until temperatures reach between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit for planting.

Mature bushes of the madagascar periwinkle plant growing white flowers with hot pink centres

Water Level

These plants have moderate watering needs. They are used to living in very dry conditions, but they respond very well to watering.

They do need regular moisture but can be a little bit sensitive to water-pouring. So take care when overhead watering. Madagascar periwinkles should be watered very sparingly in the winter seasons.

Fertilizer

Madagascar periwinkles are very accustomed to growing in nutrient poor soils, and therefore do not need fertilizer in order to have a prosperous blooming season. That being said, they seem to respond well to a general purpose fertilizer.

Pruning

The Madagascar periwinkle does not need to be pruned in order to remain healthy. Pruning is mainly done for the aesthetic preference of the property owner to keep the bush shapely.

This subshrub can be cut back when winter months approach so that it may go dormant, though it depends on how cold the season is if the plant will return the following spring.

Intolerances

The Madagascar periwinkle does not have any intolerances other than its sensitivity to cold temperatures. Otherwise, the main thing to keep in mind that it prefers sunny conditions and well drained soil!

Two beautiful and perfect white flowers of the madagascar periwinkle plant growing above some green grass

How are Madagascar Periwinkles Used?

Ornamental Plant

Madagascar periwinkles are grown as a woody based perennial plant in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. This ornamental plant is highly valued for their attractive growth habit, and their very long blooming season.

In the warmest regions this flowering plant is capable of staying in bloom nearly the entire year, whereas in more temperate warmer climates they can bloom from early spring until late autumn.

They can be planted as container plants, as a bedding plant, as a border plant, or as a ground cover plant.

Medicinal – Traditional

The Madagascar periwinkle has a long history of being cultivated for its medicinal benefits. Fossil records dating back to 2600 BCE Mesopotamia show that these plants were grown and harvested for their roots.

Both in ancient Chinese medicine and ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine, the roots and shoots of the plant are harvested for different reasons. Traditionally extracts and teas were ingested to help diseases like Malaria, diabetes, and Hodgkin’s disease.

Medicinal – Modern

With this knowledge in mind, scientists began doing further research into the correlation between diabetes and the Madagascar periwinkle. This research led to a world altering discovery.

In the 1950’s it was discovered that Madagascar periwinkle contains vinca alkaloids including vinblastine alkaloid and vincristine alkaloid by isolating catharanthus roseus and screening it.

Using biosynthesis from coupling indole alkaloids like alkaloids vincristine and vinblastine, this is how chemotherapeutic medicine was created in efforts to combat cancer.

The discovery was world altering in the world of medicine and in the world of universal healthcare as well. Thank you Madagascar periwinkle!

Several different cultivars of madagascar periwinkle flowers all growing in shrubs together

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