One of the major medical breakthroughs of the last century utilises compounds derived from a popular ornamental plant found in gardens and homes across the world, the Madagascar periwinkle. It is an evergreen subshrub or herbaceous plant growing 1 m tall. The leaves are oval to oblong, 2.5–9 cm long and 1–3.5 cm broad, glossy green, hairless, with a pale midrib and a short petiole 1–1.8 cm 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 long and a corolla 2–5 cm diameter with five petal-like lobes. The fruit is a pair of follicles 2–4 cm long and 3 mm broad. In the wild, it 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.
Madagascar periwinkle's facts
Did you know?
In some countries, people used to squeeze the fresh juices out of the leaves of the periwinkle, to treat wasp stings.
This pretty plant from Madagascar gives us two very important cancer-fighting medicines: vinblastine and vincristine. Vinblastine has helped increase the chance of surviving childhood leukaemia from 10% to 90%, while vincristine is used to treat Hodgkins’ Disease.
Traditional Madagascan healers used the rosy periwinkle for treating diabetes. This led to its study by western scientists who then discovered its anti-cancer properties
Madagascar periwinkle's Behavior & Ecology
Found on sand and limestone soils in woodland, forest, grassland, and disturbed areas.
Madagascar periwinkle's Reproduction
The species has a flower adapted to pollination by a long-tongued insect, such as a moth or butterfly, this species, unlike most in the Apocynaceae family, is also able to self pollinate. Self compatibility and a relatively high tolerance of disturbance have enabled this species to spread from cultivation and naturalise in many parts of the world. As a consequence, this species is sometimes considered to be an invasive weed, although it does not normally proliferate sufficiently to eliminate native vegetation. The seeds of this species are reportedly distributed by ants
Madagascar periwinkle's Relationship with Humans
In Maldives, this species mostly can be seen in gardens. It is known that the species has long been cultivated for herbal medicine and as an ornamental plant in worldwide. In Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) the extracts of its roots and shoots, though poisonous, are used against several diseases. The juice from leaves is good for wasp-stings and menorrhagia. The anticancer drugs namely ‘vincristine’ and ‘vinblastine’ are extracted from this plant.