Catharanthus roseus

Madagascar periwinkle


Catharanthus roseus

(L.) G.Don 1837

pronounced: kath-uh-RAN-thuss RO-zee-uss

(Apocynaceae — the oleander family)

synonym — Vinca rosea

L. 1759

pronounced: VINK-uh RO-zee-uh

common names: pink periwinkle, periwinkle, Madagascar periwinkle, nanny goat flower

Catharanthus comes from two Greek words, καθαρος (katharos), pure, spotless, and ανθος (anthos), a flower; roseus is Latin for ‘rosy’. The former name for the genus, Vinca, is from the Latin vincio, to bind.

This little flower, in pink or white, grows wild all over the island. It is a garden escapee, and has become naturalized in many tropical and subtropical regions of the world. As children, we always called it the Nanny Goat Flower, and so I have included this term among the common names.
is native to Madagascar, where, in the wild, it has become an endangered species due to the ‘slash and burn’ agricultural methods used there, but there is very little, if any, chance of its becoming an endangered species here!

The Pink Periwinkle is an evergreen perennial herbaceous plant found growing on our roadsides and garden edges, usually less than a metre tall. The leaves are oval to oblong, 2.5 – 9 cm long and 1 – 3.5 cm broad, glossy, green and hairless with a pale midrib and a short, fairly rigid petiole less than 2 cm long. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs.

The flowers are white to dark pink with a darker red centre, with a basal tube 2.5 – 3 cm long and a corolla 2–5 cm in diameter with five petal-like lobes. There is also a white variety whose flowers do not have the reddish centre.

The fruit is a pair of follicles 2 – 4 cm long and 3 mm broad.

As with other members of the oleander family, the broken stem exudes a milky latex.

The species has long been cultivated for herbal medicine and as an ornamental plant. Numerous cultivars have been selected, for variation in flower colour (white, mauve, peach, scarlet and reddish orange) and for tolerance of cooler growing conditions in temperate regions. In traditional Chinese medicine, extracts from it are used to treat numerous diseases, including diabetes, malaria and Hodgkin’s disease. The plant is grown commercially for its medicinal uses in Australia, Africa, India and southern Europe. The substances vinblastine and vincristine extracted from the plant are used in the treatment of leukaemia. dangerous 2The plant can be dangerous if consumed orally, and can be hallucinogenic. It has also caused poisoning in grazing animals.

The Madagascan Periwinkle is a modern-day success story in the search for naturally occurring anticancer drugs. There are, however, often undesirable side effects when it is used in cancer treatment.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2012
Page last updated 3rd November 2018