Native to Madagascar, Catharanthus is an evergreen perennial plant of the Apocynaceae family. Catharanthus means “a flawless flower” in Greek. And indeed, the flowers of this plant stand out with their perfect, amazing pure pink, purple and white hues.

Catharanthus roseus : History

When in the first half of the eighteenth century catharanthus, leaving the frontiers of Madagascar, began its triumphant march through Europe, Asia, America, adorning both flower beds and window sills, it had a different name – a rosy periwinkle or Madagascar periwinkle. And it’s no wonder. A “tropical guest” arrived in Paris for breeding in the botanical garden in the form of seeds collected in Madagascar. And now, when the seeds have sprouted and turned into flowering plants, the growers have noticed that the “Madagascar traveler” is really very similar to the familiar periwinkle, known to all flower growers for a long time.


But in 1837, after carefully studying it, scientists finally classified the Madagascar or rosy periwinkle to an entirely new Catharanthus genus. However, the botanists have been figuring out the “pedigree” of a Madagascar guest for so long that growers got used to the name of periwinkle, and still continued and continue to call the beautiful flower this way.

In addition to this name the plant has plenty of nicknames: “cayenne jasmine”, “rose periwinkle”, “Lochnera”, “bright eyes”, even “old-maid”, and many others, depending on the region. But, to be honest, all these interesting “nicknames” mainly relate to only one kind of a catharanthus – Catharanthus roseus.


The fact is that out of eight species belonging to the catharanthus genus only Catharanthus roseus is used in culture, and six Madagascan and one Asian species growing in the territory of Sri Lanka and India, have not received special recognition of florists for some reason. On the other hand, Catharanthus roseus adorns window sills, planters, flower beds, gardens, it is used for decorating parks and private estates.

So what is this beautiful and very undemanding plant that can adorn any garden and house, turning it into a bright, colorful flower garden?

Catharanthus roseus : Review

Catharanthus roseus ((L.) G.Don typus) is a branched shrub, 20 to 60 cm high, belonging to the Apocynaceae family, perennial and evergreen. Synonym: Vinca rosea (L. basionym). Many cultivars have been grown based on this variety. It is widely used around the world as an beautiful ornamental garden or house plant.

A long root grows up to 25-35 centimeters and has many lateral roots of a light yellow color and it has a specific strong smell. The color of the bark is associated with the color of the flowers. If the flowers are pink, the bark is of the anthocyanin color (from bluish red to brown). If white – the bark is green. With age the stem of the plant becomes treelike.


The leaves of vinca rosea are lanceolate, oblong, dark green, but different varieties have downy or hairless, glossy flowers. A white streak runs on top in the middle. Foliage is quite beautiful, it alone is a good reason to grow the plant in gardens and homes.

Still, flowers are the main values of the plant. They are up to 3 cm in diameter, they are located in the bases of upper leaves, and they have five petals, which constitute the corolla, fused into a tube. The petals are bent, and when you look at a flower, you see a familiar flat flower like that of a usual periwinkle. But the color of the catharanthus flowers can be different, it all depends on the variety. In fact, in the last century growers could not boast of any special “colorings” of a catharanthus. There were pink, white, and with a pink eye on white flowers. That’s it: beautiful, but not too varied.

Amazing varieties of unusual colors

However, since 1976 the American scientists have turned their “scientific view” to the plant and begun to study the interspecific hybrids of catharanthus, cross them with each other, work hard on the unusual coloring of flowers and on giving the periwinkle a more compact appearance. To do this, they took the seeds of several different kinds of catharanthus. But the results were obtained only twelve years later in 1988, and the following varieties appeared:

  • ‘Peppermint Cooler’ – white vinca flowers with red eyes;
  • ‘Grape Cooler’ – lavender-pink flowers with a red eye.


Still, the scientists were not going to dwell on this, breeding work continued on and many new hybrid forms appeared. However, the very first forms of catharanthus resulting from interspecific crosses are the progenitors of these hybrids.

  • The varieties “Vitesse”, “Jaio”, “Viper” are amazingly beautiful.
  • The flowers “Pacifica Burgundy” bloom very early, they are carmine-red, big, about five centimeters in diameter.
  • The “First Kiss” variety is amazing. It is currently of thirteen different kinds of colors. The plants of this variety are compact shrubs, not more than 40 cm high with flowers up to five cm in diameter, of different colors, there are even blue-violet ones.
  • “First Kiss Blueberry” won the award at the annual show of the American breeders.

However, the breeders were interested in not only compact varieties. The scientists have grown suspended varieties with half-meter shoots beautifully hanging from pendent pots:

  • “Mediterranean”
  • “Cascade blossom”

The scientists set themselves a task to not only get flowers of various colors, but to also make the plant longer-lasting, drought-resistant and abundantly flowering. We must admit that they have succeeded.

Catharanthus roseus : Medical

Amateur florists know catharanthus mostly as an indoor ornamental plant, perennial, beautiful and unpretentious, which consistently pleases with its abundant bright flowering and green shiny leaves given decent, very simple care, annual pruning and transplanting every two years (see Care).

The matter is more complicated with its medicinal properties. One can not “taste” what it’s made of judging by its appearance. And one should definitely not “taste” catharanthus. The plant is poisonous. Even after cutting or grafting it you should wash your hands, so tasting it is out of the question. It is also necessary to protect the flower from animals, or rather, to protect animals from it.

However, despite its dangers, a rosy periwinkle is of great benefit to humanity. It is widely used both in folk medicine and pharmacology. There are about eighty alkaloids in its stems and leaves…