Madagascar Periwinkle Care: Growing Madagascar Rosy Periwinkle Plant
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Madagascar or rosy periwinkle plant (Catharantus roseus) is a spectacular plant used as a ground cover or trailing accent. Previously known as Vinca rosea, this species does not have the hardiness its look-alike cousin, Vinca minor, has attained. The rosy periwinkle plant is tolerant of many growing conditions where seasons are warm annually and soil is well draining. Some notes about rosy periwinkle and how and where to grow Madagascar periwinkles can be found in this article.
Where to Grow Madagascar Periwinkles
Starry flowers, glossy leaves and persistent fruits characterize the rosy periwinkle plant. It is a perennial in its native region of Madagascar and in tropical to semi-tropical regions. The flowers may be found in white, pink and rosy-purple. It’s a plant that’s easy to care for, and may grow as a perennial or an annual in cooler zones.
The hardiness range is only USDA plant hardiness zones 9b to 11 as a perennial. However, you can use the plant for summer interest as an annual. Zones 7 and 8 should wait to install the plants outdoors until late May or preferably early June. The native habitat is located off the coast of South Africa and is semi-arid and hot and sunny year around.
Due to the plant’s adaptive nature, growing Madagascar rosy periwinkle in wetter, temperate zones is possible. It will succumb when freezing temperatures arrive, but generally blooms prolifically until that time.
About Rosy Periwinkle Cultivation
Rosy periwinkle self-seeds, but the most common method of establishment is through cuttings. In the warmer climates, it grows rapidly to a height of up to 2 feet (61 cm.) and a similar spread. Seeds germinate at 70 to 75 F. (21-23 C) in around one week.
Care should be exercised to ensure a dry garden bed. It is even useful to plant periwinkle in a raised bed or one amended heavily with sand or other grit. Rosy periwinkle plants are extremely affected by heavy rains or excess irrigation and may develop root rot in such situations. Growing rosy periwinkle in temperate zones usually results in a short season annual with three months of lovely flowers before a glut of moisture ends its life.
Madagascar Periwinkle Care
The biggest issue with Madagascar periwinkle care is overwatering. Apply infrequent supplemental water in only the hottest and driest periods. In temperate zones, water the plants only until established and then rarely.
The plant thrives in ideal zones, in either partial shade or partial sun. The key is heat and dryness for a healthy rosy periwinkle. It actually produces the best and most prolific flowers in poor soil, and excessively fertile soils can adversely affect the number of blooms. For this reason, it’s not necessary to feed the plants except at emergence and installation.
Pinch off new stems to promote a bushier plant. You can prune back the woody stems after the season has ended to improve the appearance and promote flowering.
This easy to care for plant will astound you with season long drama in proper environmental regions or a few months of fun in cooler zones. Either way, it is a worthy addition to most landscapes for any duration.
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Read more about Annual Vinca
The Rosy Periwinkle in Your Garden
Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. This October we share in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The Rosy Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) from Madagascar is a delicate, cheerful flower cultivated worldwide as an ornamental plant. Indigenous healers valued it for its many medicinal properties and Western scientists eventually developed it for pharmaceutical use. This pink flower generates chemical compounds commonly used in chemotherapy to treat several types of cancer, including breast cancer.
When we hear mention of a new discovery in cancer research, botanical compounds like the periwinkle’s vinblastine are typical (although not to be taken for granted). But, humans and plants are also interacting in a holistic, environmental exchange at a much larger scale.
We know multiple factors support healthy bodies: stress reduction, physical activity, social ties and social support, and strong immune functioning 1 . For each of these factors, we find evidence linking these to time spent in nature. For example, walking through a forest has been shown to improve immune function as measured by the number and activity of immunity-supporting cells and anti-cancer proteins 2 3 . Levels of these cells remained elevated for as much as 30 days after a forest visit, and did not increase at all during a carefully matched urban visit. Dr. Li, the lead scientist on ‘forest bathing’, has studied the effects of environmental chemicals, stress and lifestyle on immune function since the late ‘80s. His research has steadily shifted to investigating these large-scale immune responses to the environment and is establishing a new field of Forest Medicine to document the interactions of human response to physical environment factors. Health and environment researchers such as Li are leading us to consider the benefits of Rosy Periwinkle not only in our bodies, but outside of them as well.
Growing Periwinkle in the Southwest
When most of us think about periwinkle, we either think of a vine or a ground cover. Here in the Southwest, it is extremely common to find another version of periwinkle that’s completely unrelated. Below, I’ll share some of the major differences between these plants and how to grow them.
Major vs. minor
Greater periwinkle or big periwinkle (Vinca major, Zones 7–9) and lesser periwinkle or common periwinkle (V. minor, Zones 4–8) are both shade-loving ground covers that like dry, well-drained soil. While greater periwinkle is native to the Mediterranean, lesser periwinkle is native to Central and Southern Europe. They are both low maintenance, pest free, and quite hardy. In many areas they both are considered quite invasive.* That doesn’t necessarily mean you should never use them. On the contrary, they might be perfect for your specific needs. But be sure to keep an eye on the runners to ensure they are not creeping too far, too quickly. Both are evergreen, mat-forming perennials. They’re most commonly used as ground covers, as trailing additions to containers, or sometimes as houseplants. An easy way to help you tell the difference between the two periwinkles is through leaf shape. The leaves of greater periwinkle tend to be larger, broader, and sometimes heart-shaped. Lesser periwinkle leaves are smaller and more elongated.
To switch genera altogether, Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus, Zones 9–11), also called Cape periwinkle or annual vinca, is from Madagascar. At one time it was called Vinca rosea, but it was later decided that it should be classified differently from true vincas. Madagascar periwinkle is a tropical perennial that is typically grown as an annual in many regions but may be hardy in some areas of the Southwest. The flowers resemble those of impatiens (Impatiens walleriana cvs., annual), but unlike impatiens, Madagascar periwinkle loves the sun. This plant is an absolute beauty and produces flowers from early summer to late fall and beyond! Especially in the desert where you least expect to see such vibrant blooms, it really catches your eye. Madagascar periwinkle is drought tolerant and requires very little maintenance as long as you give it well-drained soil. It grows up to 18 inches high and comes in a rainbow of colors. You can find it in pink, red, white, purple, magenta, as well as multicolored. Be warned—if overwatered, this plant will develop root rot and die.
Many gardeners have been confused by all three of these different plants referred to with one name. Although they all produce beautiful foliage and flowers, it’s extremely important to understand which one you’re planting and if it’s appropriate for your garden. If you are in doubt, hunt down a local garden center pro. If that person is unsure, do your own research. There’s no shame in relying on the good-old internet to help you through a gardening conundrum. Good luck, gardeners!
*Check to see if greater periwinkle is invasive in your area here and if lesser periwinkle is invasive in your area here.
—Sheila Schultz and Laurel Startzel are a mother-daughter duo who founded Denver Dirty Girls Container Gardening while living in Denver and have continued their business since moving to Tucson, Arizona.
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Native to Madagascar, India, and tropical Asia, Madagascar periwinkle blooms continuously in hot weather, thriving in both humid and dry heat. Bushy plant grows 1112 feet high and wide, with upright stems clothed in glossy green leaves and adorned with phloxlike, 112 inches flowers in pure white, pink, rose, or white with a rose or red eye. Bloom goes on all summer, but by autumn the plant gets leggy and flowering is spotty. Survives winter in central and south Florida, where it has escaped cultivation and naturalized. Self-sows readily, especially in sandy or gritty soil.
Recent breeding has produced plants with larger blossoms in a wider range of colors, including vibrant shades of red, lavender, and purple. Flowers of some new types sport overlapping petals, giving them a fuller, more rounded look. Pacifica and Cooler series are compact, 12- to 15 inches plants with large (2 inches.) flowers. The Tropicana series features blooms in shades of pink and coral on foot-tall plants. The Stardust series bears orchid, pink, or raspberry-red flowers centered with a white starburst.
Variations in form among Madagascar periwinkles include shorter and more compact types and those with trailing habits. The Little series grows 810 inches high the Carpet series grows 48 inches tall, creeping to 112 feet wide. Plants in the Mediterranean series grow 56 inches high and can spread 212 feet wide they're useful as a seasonal ground cover or in hanging baskets. Blossom colors include apricot, pink, rose, lilac, and white. The disease-resistant Cora series has mounding and trailing forms, many colors, and extra-long bloom plants grow 1416 inches tall.
All types bloom the first season from seed sown early indoors or in a greenhouse or cold frame, but most people buy transplants at garden centers. Unfortunately, many of the newer hybrids seem more susceptible than their predecessors to wilt and rot diseases caused by planting in heavy, wet soil. Be sure to plant in loose, fast-draining soil, and take care not to crowd plants.
Madagascar periwinkle was formerly known botanically as Vinca rosea, and many people still call it by the name vinca.
Where in the world? -HABITAT-
Catharanthus roseus , more commonly known as the Periwinkle of Madagascar, is a native species to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. Madagascar is located off the east coast of Southern Africa.
The Periwinkle is a perennial plant that is very prevalent in areas that are tropical to sub-tropical. However, in areas that are more moderate, the periwinkle is considered an annual, due to the frosty conditions of the fall. It is also commonly found in the southern parts of the United States in California, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and South and North Carolina.
Periwinkles can be found blooming from early June up until the first freeze of the season sometime during the fall months. Catharanthus roseus, does an excellent job tolerating the hot temperatures of the summer, and is also able to bear the extremes of drought and heavy rainfall. After the periwinkle was introduced to the southern United States, it has now become an ornamental plant grown in flowerbeds, serving as a great boarder plant. The the Rosy Periwinkle can even be found in areas such as India, Australia, Africa and southern Europe where it is grown and cultivated for its medicinal uses.
In the specific niche of Madagascar where the Rosy Periwinkle resides, there are an array of other organisms found there as well. Madagascar is a very diverse place, and is home to some organisms that are found nowhere else in the world! However, the forests of Madagascar are depleting exponentially due to the overuse of resources. Here are a few of the other organisms that are native to the island of the Madagascar Periwinkle. Aye-Aye, a nocturnal lemur, the ring-tailed lemur, and another plant species, that enjoys the warm humid climate, the moth orchid.
Not finding Rosy Periwinkles in your backyard, take a trip to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and see the Rosy Periwinkle up-close!
Follow this link to gain a better appreciation for the Indian Island Ocean of Madagascar.
Now, onto the ADAPTATIONS that the Rosy Periwinkle has acquired.
Pests and Diseases
Rosy periwinkle is generally resistant to serious outbreaks of diseases and pests. Stem rot, leaf spots, wilts and aster yellows are some of the more common pathogens. Typical pest infestations come from aphids, spider mites and whiteflies. Diseases, which usually present as discolorations or spots, can be controlled by using certified disease-free plants and avoiding overwatering. Pests can be prevented by avoiding high levels of nitrogen fertilizer and the overuse of pesticides that also kill beneficial insects.
Bonnie Singleton has been writing professionally since 1996. She has written for various newspapers and magazines including "The Washington Times" and "Woman's World." She also wrote for the BBC-TV news magazine "From Washington" and worked for Discovery Channel online for more than a decade. Singleton holds a master's degree in musicology from Florida State University and is a member of the American Independent Writers.