Catharanthus roseus, commonly known as bright eyes, Cape periwinkle, graveyard plant, Madagascar periwinkle, old maid, pink periwinkle, rose periwinkle, is a species of flowering plant in the family Apocynaceae. It is native and endemic to Madagascar, but grown elsewhere as an ornamental and medicinal plant, a source of the drugs vincristine and vinblastine, used to treat cancer. It was formerly included in the genus Vinca as Vinca rosea.
(See also Synonyms section)
Two varieties are recognized
- Catharanthus roseus var. roseus
- Synonymy for this variety
- Catharanthus roseus var. angustus (Steenis) Bakh. f.
Catharnthus roseus is an evergreen subshrub or herbaceous plant growing 1 m (39 in) tall. The leaves are oval to oblong, 2.5–9 cm (1.0–3.5 in) long and 1–3.5 cm (0.4–1.4 in) broad, glossy green, hairless, with a pale midrib and a short petiole 1–1.8 cm (0.4–0.7 in) long; they 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 (1.0–1.2 in) long and a corolla 2–5 cm (0.8–2.0 in) diameter with five petal-like lobes. The fruit is a pair of follicles 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) long and 3 mm (0.1 in) broad.
Periwinkles are of two types - Foliage periwinkle (which often grows wild on cliffs) and Annual periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). In the wild, C. roseus is an endangered plant; the main cause of decline is habitat destruction by slash and burn agriculture. It is also, however, widely cultivated and is naturalised in subtropical and tropical areas of the world like Australia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is so well adapted to growth in Australia, that it is listed as a noxious weed in Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, and also in parts of eastern Queensland.
As an ornamental plant, it is appreciated for its hardiness in dry and nutritionally deficient conditions, popular in subtropical gardens where temperatures never fall below 5–7 °C (41–45 °F), and as a warm-season bedding plant in temperate gardens. It is noted for its long flowering period, throughout the year in tropical conditions, and from spring to late autumn, in warm temperate climates. Full sun and well-drained soil are preferred. Numerous cultivars have been selected, for variation in flower colour (white, mauve, peach, scarlet and reddish-orange), and also for tolerance of cooler growing conditions in temperate regions. Notable cultivars include 'Albus' (white flowers), 'Grape Cooler' (rose-pink; cool-tolerant), the Ocellatus Group (various colours), and 'Peppermint Cooler' (white with a red centre; cool-tolerant).
The species has long been cultivated for herbal medicine and as an ornamental plant. In the UK it has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (confirmed 2017). In Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) the extracts of its roots and shoots, though poisonous, are used against several diseases. In traditional Chinese medicine, extracts from it have been used against numerous diseases, including diabetes, malaria, and Hodgkin's lymphoma. Many of the vinca alkaloids were first isolated from Catharanthus roseus, including vinblastine and vincristine used in the treatment of leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma.
C. roseus is used in plant pathology as an experimental host for phytoplasmas. This is because it is easy to infect with a large majority of phytoplasmas, and also often has very distinctive symptoms such as phyllody and significantly reduced leaf size.
Vinblastine and vincristine, chemotherapy medications used to treat several types of cancers, are found in the plant and are biosynthesised from the coupling of the alkaloids catharanthine and vindoline. The newer semi-synthetic chemotherapeutic agent vinorelbine, used in the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer, can be prepared either from vindoline and catharanthine or from the vinca alkaloid leurosine, in both cases via anhydrovinblastine.
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- Media related to Catharanthus roseus at Wikimedia Commons