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Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle)

The Madagascar periwinkle is a popular ornamental plant found in gardens and homes across the world, and is also used in the treatment of cancer.
Pink flower of the Madagascar periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Catharanthus roseus

Common name: 

Madagascar periwinkle

Conservation status: 

This species has not been assessed by the IUCN.

Habitat: 

Found on sand and limestone soils in woodland, forest, grassland, and disturbed areas.

Key Uses: 

Traditional medicine, ornamental

Known hazards: 

As with other members of the Apocynaceae family, the sap is extremely toxic.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Asteranae
Order: 
Gentianales
Family: 
Apocynaceae
Genus: Catharanthus

About this species

The Madagascar periwinkle is a popular ornamental plant found in gardens and homes across the warmer parts of the world. It is also known as the source of chemical compounds now used in the treatment of cancer. Their discovery led to one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the last century.

The plant has a flower adapted to pollination by a long-tongued insect, such as a moth or butterfly. It is also able to self-pollinate. Self-compatibility and a relatively high tolerance to disturbance have enabled the plant to spread from cultivation and to become naturalised in many parts of the world. As a consequence, the Madagascar periwinkle is sometimes considered to be an invasive weed, although it does not normally proliferate sufficiently to eliminate native vegetation. Its seeds have been seen to be distributed by ants.

Uses

In traditional medicine, the Madagascar periwinkle has been used to treat a variety of ailments in Madagascar as well as in other parts of the world where the plant has naturalised. Whilst researching the anti-diabetic properties of the plant in the 1950s, scientists discovered the presence of several highly toxic alkaloids in its tissues. These alkaloids are now used in the treatment of a number of different types of cancer, with one derived compound, called vincristine, having been credited with raising the survival rate in childhood leukaemia from less than 10 % in 1960 to over 90 % today. Powerful medicinal plants such as the Madagascar periwinkle remind us of the need to conserve and study the increasingly threatened plant habitats of the world.

Genus: 
Catharanthus

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