Previously included in the Vinca plant genus as Vinca roseus or Vinca rastrera, Catharanthus roseus [kat-uh-RANTH-us, RO-zee-us] is an evergreen sub-shrub known for its glossy green leaves.
It belongs to the Apocynaceae (dogbane) family of plants along with:
It’s native to Madagascar and cultivated throughout the world as an ornamental plant and as a medicinal plant.
A couple of chemotherapy medicines contain extracts from the plant.
It also goes by many common names, including:
- Bright eyes
- Old maid
- Pink periwinkle
- Madagascar periwinkle
- Cape periwinkle
- Graveyard plant
- Trailing annual vinca
It’s a hardy plant and popular in subtropical gardens.
Trailing Catharanthus Vinca Care
Periwinkle is the name often used to describe Vinca minor and Vinca major, which both have similar care needs.
Size and Growth
The trailing variety of vinca is a small perennial (in warm locations) with a woody base.
It produces a mound of woody stems and glossy green foliage, reaching a height of about 6” inches to 18” inches.
It’s a low maintenance trailing plant spreading easily, making to a common choice for groundcover in a garden bed.
The leaves are oblong and measure about 2” inches.
Flowering and Fragrance
The bushy foliage eventually produces phlox-like flowers in the summer.
The colorful clusters of flowers tend to last throughout the year until the first sign of frost appears.
The flower color of the petals varies with cultivars producing white, lilac, red, pink, or rose-colored flowers.
They don’t produce a noticeable fragrance.
Light and Temperature
Winter hardy to USDA zones 10 to 11, trailing vinca grows best in warm, humid regions.
Vinca tolerates partial shade but thrives in full sun.
If plants grow in part shade and do not receive adequate light throughout the year, it won’t produce fuller blooms.
It can’t survive freezing temperatures in the winter.
In cool regions with warm summers, place the plant outdoors in sunny spots during the warmer months, and bring it inside for the winter.
If the outdoor conditions remain too cool for the plant during the winter, it tends to grow as an annual.
It may continue to produce blooms for several years before slowly dying out.
Overwintering the plant allows it to grow as a perennial in cooler regions.
Water Needs and Feeding
Even though they have low water needs and are breed for heat and drought tolerant, never allow the soil to dry out completely.
This plant requires regular watering but shouldn’t become waterlogged.
If the soil doesn’t drain well, the excess water starts to promote rot or fungal growth.
TIP: Misting the plant helps to ensure it receives enough water without overwatering the soil.
From early spring to autumn, use a liquid fertilizer every two weeks when watering the plant.
Soil Type and Transplanting
Vinca catharanthus is not particular as to the soil type. For best results grow plants in well-drained soil, adding compost or other organic matter if the soil doesn’t drain well.
Adding a layer of pebbles below the soil also reduces the risk of fungal growth or root rot.
Repot potted plants each spring.
Madagascar periwinkle should receive fresh well drained soil each year.
For plants grown in garden beds, top off the soil each spring and add a layer of mulch to help stabilize temperatures in the soil and moisture around the root ball.
Madagascar periwinkle doesn’t need grooming.
How To Propagate Catharanthus Roseus
Propagate from cuttings or seeds.
To Propagate from Cuttings:
- Take 2” – 3” inch-long tip cuttings in the late spring or early summer.
- Take cuttings from branches with new growth, trimming just below a set of leaves.
- Dip the end of the cutting in hormone rooting powder and plant in 2” – 3” inch pots using a well-drained potting mix.
- Cover the pots with plastic bags and poke several holes for ventilation.
- Place the pots near a window with bright light.
After about three to four weeks, the cuttings should take root.
Follow the same plant care tips recommended for mature plants.
The following spring, transplant to a larger container.
For Seed Starting:
- Sow seeds in a shallow tray in early spring.
- Use moistened potting soil and cover the tray with a plastic bag or lid.
- Set the tray in a warm spot or near a window with direct sunlight.
- The seeds should germinate within two to three weeks.
- After germination, remove the cover and start watering the seedlings occasionally.
- Allow the top half-inch to dry out between watering.
- When the seedlings reach one inch tall, transplant to 3” inch pots.
Catharanthus Roseus Pest or Disease Problems
Madagascar periwinkle comes with several WARNINGS.
Look out for mealybugs and keep children and pets away from the plant.
All parts of the plant are toxic if ingested. Details on the Poisonous periwinkle.
It’s also a good idea to wear gloves when handling the plant or thoroughly wash your hands afterward.
Mealybugs are more of a problem when growing the plant indoors. These pests often resemble white cotton like bugs on plants and the foliage.
Use cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol to wipe away the bugs.
Spraying the plant with a mixture of dish soap and water may also solve the problem. For severe infestations, treat with an insecticide such as Neem Oil for pest control.
Suggested Trailing Annual Vinca Uses
The bushy growth, trailing habit and showy flowers make Madagascar periwinkle a great option for:
- Hanging baskets
- Window boxes
- Container garden
- Garden beds and borders
- As a ground cover
One of the new varieties or selections you’ll find at the garden center is the fast-growing Mediterranean XP series.
Plant them with other heat-loving plants such as New Guinea impatiens, angelonia, pentas, petunia, lobelia and zinnia.
It also grows well in raised planters or container gardens, attracting butterflies and bringing more color to a balcony or porch.