Rosy Periwinkle

The Multifaceted Rosy Periwinkle

The rosy periwinkle is known by many names and has an equal number of uses.  Catharanthus roseus—the scientific name for the rosy periwinkle—is flower that has many has many guises.  In some places for example, denizens call it Cape periwinkle, while in others it goes by the folksy, southern sounding “Old Maid.”  One of its more exotic names is Madagascar periwinkle, because this hardy plant is indigenous to that island nation, just off the coast of continental Africa.  As with so many plants, the Chinese claim that it had its origins within its borders, and they feel an especial national pride and attachment to this multifaceted plant.

Despite all this attention and its hardiness, scientists consider the rosy periwinkle an endangered species in the wilds of its home forest—yet another victim of clear cutting.  Luckily, the plant has come into wide cultivation throughout subtropical gardens of the world on all six of the populated continents.

The Beautiful Rosy Periwinkle

This is definitely a lovely plant, with glossy green leaves whose hardiness make it a favorite to carpet garden areas and as backdrops for other flowers.  Many, however, also use this bushy flowering plant as the main display in their gardens, enjoying the simple beauty of it white or pink flowers (it also has other hues).  Landscapers love to use it to form low-lying hedges between areas, the lovely flowers being yet another positive of the plant.

When planting the rosy periwinkle, however, gardeners should keep in mind that this is one of those plants that loves the warmth in the sun.  Snow and the periwinkle don’t mix well.  However, if you have a garden and are looking for something to put in the area that only receives a bit of afternoon shade, this kind of periwinkle might just do the trick.  Furthermore, the rosy periwinkle is not picky about the kind of soil you plant it in thriving in most types.  Of course, it does best in a soil rich in nutrients with great drainage (like most plants) but it need not have these in order to thrive.

One other consideration when deciding whether to use the plant is inherent risk posed by its chemical properties.  Perhaps one of the reasons this hardy beautiful plant is not more popular has to do with its hallucinogenic properties.  If ingested by humans, the rosy periwinkle can work as a powerful and somewhat dangerous hallucinogen.  For this reason, it is not the ideal plant for location where small children might be likely to ingest the plant.

On the Medical Uses of Catharanthus Roseus

It is not the plant's aesthetic qualities that have made it the subject of dispute however.  It turns out that one of the substances in the plant has turned out to be useful in the treatment of Leukemia.  Biotech companies have successfully manufactured a product containing an extract from the plant.

The Chinese, however, claim that this act constitutes a form of cultural theft, since the western companies have not compensated China for this use of their native son.  Western biotech interests, however, claim that they themselves were the ones to develop the drug treatment and that they did not use the plants that grew in China.  Others claim that places like Madagascar also are home to the plant.

The Chinese for their part, point out that the Catharanthus roseus has long been used in Chinese medicine and thus should be considered part of their cultural heritage.

Regardless of the views of such appropriation, the rosy periwinkle is not soon to go out of favor with both gardeners and medical researchers.