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Madagascar Periwinkle

Madagascar periwinkle

Madagascar periwinkle is a herbaceous plant native to the island of which it bears the name.

Madagascar periwinkle facts

Name – Catharanthus roseus
Family – Apocynceae or dogbane
Type – bush

Height – 10 to 20 in (0.25 to 0.5 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – well-drained

Foliage – evergreen (in warm climates)
Flowering – May to October-November

It will provide you with very cute blooming in summer. Formerly, the plant went by the names Alcea rosea and Vinca rosea. This is why the name “Vinca” pops up quite often.

Planting Madagascar periwinkle

Outdoor growing of Madagascar periwinkle

Planting Madagascar periwinkleThe Madagascar periwinkle is native to the island of Madagascar which has a tropical climate.

  • It therefore requires a temperature of at least 68°F (20°C) to thrive and grow.
  • When growing it directly in the ground, temperatures must be high in both summer and winter.
  • Planting is done in spring.

But it’s also possible to grow Madagascar periwinkle as an annual from May to October without any problems at all.

  • Find a very sunny spot for it.
  • Mix soil mix into your garden soil.
  • Water only if the plant shows signs of dehydration, because it resists arid conditions quite well.
  • Either let it die off, or bring it indoors for the winter. The pot-in-pot technique works well here.

Growing potted Madagascar periwinkle

To grow Madagascar periwinkle in a pot, it is advised to re-pot every 1 or 2 years, preferably in spring.

The pot provided upon purchase will quickly become too small: re-pot your Madagascar periwinkle as soon as its blooming is over.

Sowing from seed

Increasingly, Madagascar periwinkle is available as seeds.

It’s easy to sow the seeds:

  • plant directly in the ground, two or three seeds in a shallow seed hole.
  • Space them about 1 foot (30 cm) apart.
  • Cover with a thin layer of potting soil, about 1/4th inch (0.5 cm).
  • When they sprout, wait for several pairs of leaves to appear. Thin out the weaker ones to leave only one.

If there are many slugs or snails, wait for the plants to have at least 4 pairs of leaves before thinning or transplanting.

Pruning and caring for your Madagascar periwinkle

If you’re growing your Madagascar periwinkle outdoors like an annual, simply pull the plant out once the first frost spells have hit. It wouldn’t survive the winter anyways.

If growing a Madagascar periwinkle indoors, in pots, you’ll have to prune it on a regular basis. Doing this helps increase blooming and controls its growth.

To boost flower-bearing, remove Madagascar periwinkle wilted flowers regularly (deadheading).

  • It is best to prune lightly at the very beginning of spring to spur blooming.
  • Pruning can be done during re-potting.

Madagascar periwinkle in winter

Madagascar periwinkle is typically grown as an annual plant in temperate climates. It isn’t a hardy flower.

  • Indeed, wherever winters are cold, the plant can’t survive. It will die unless brought inside.

Growing Madagascar periwinkle in a pot or container

Choose a very well-lit space for your Madagascar periwinkle, but not in direct sunlight behind a window.

  • Avoid heat sources such as radiators.
  • Protect the plant from direct sunlight during the hotter hours if placed behind a window.

Water regularly but not too much, to avoid suffocating roots.

Finally, bring your shrub outdoors from May to October to give it fresh air.

When in a pot, Madagascar periwinkle needs a lot of moisture. It loves resting over a tray of wet clay marbles or gravel. Indeed, this recreates its natural environment.

Madagascar periwinkle after flowering

The usual blooming season for Madagascar periwinkle extends from May to October.

  • After blooming, its is best to winterize your plant: place it in a cooler but well-lit room.
  • Ideal temperatures are around 68 to 70° F (20 to 21° C) in summer, and 50 to 60°F (10 to 15°C) in winter.
  • Bring watering down to the minimum and refrain from adding fertilizer.

Diseases and issues related to Madagascar periwinkle

Madagascar periwinkle leaves turn yellow most often when they were exposed to the cold or to lack of water.

  • Protect your Madagascar periwinkle from drafts. In addition, regularly spray water on their leaves. Rainwater is best to avoid build-up of minerals.

If a cottony white substance starts covering the leaves of your Madagascar periwinkle, it means a scale insect colony has appeared.

Madagascar periwinkle can also be colonized by mites and ticks such as red spider mites.

Different types of Madagascar periwinkle

In the wild, only two colors exist: white and pink. Today, through cultivation and breeding, many new colors exist: red, peach, apricot…

Learn more about Madagascar periwinkle

This is a very simple plant to care for. It is perfect to cover flower beds. Excellent for very sandy soil.

There is no need to remove dead flowers, they will simply fall off and quickly give rise to more!

History of Madagascar periwinkle

This flower has been bred and cultivated for almost a hundred years. In the wild, only two colors can be found: purple-pink and white. In the 1920s, horticulturists started identifying promising Madagascar periwinkle varieties both tall and short.

Initially, breeders tried to expand the range of colors. Today, newer varieties are better at resisting disease, drought, cold and heat… thus generating savings for landscapers and hassle for owners!

Madagascar periwinkle trivia

Roots of this ornamental flower contain alkaloids. Research is ongoing that shows these compounds effective in treating cancer!

Double check labels

Madagascar periwinkle, a short shrub with nice flowersMadagascar periwinkle is different from common periwinkle, which has the scientific name “Vinca”.

  • The confusion arises from stores and horticulture centers using the same name, Vinca, for both plants.
  • In these stores, anything labeled “annual vinca” is actually Madagascar periwinkle.

Also, this plant is similar to Impatiens (and to sunpatiens). To tell them apart, look at the center of the flower and the rim of leaves.

  • Madagascar periwinkle has smooth edges on leaves. Leaf tips are rounder. The center of the flower is a hole.
  • Impatiens has toothy leaves (serrated is the botanical term). Leaf tips are sharper. The center of the flower has pistils sticking out of it.

Smart tip about the Madagascar periwinkle

Adding organic flower plant fertilizer will enhance its bloom.


Images: 123RF: Kotchasi Charoensuk, CC BY 2.0: Paul and Jill, CC BY-SA 2.0: Bernard Dupont
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  • Esther Isaacs wrote on 3 August 2023 at 7 h 49 min

    Hi I have a periwinkle (white) I tmis flowering since May. I live in an area in South Africa thats is very cold in winter, but my periwinkle still blooms

  • Lilleigh wrote on 16 November 2022 at 1 h 53 min

    Thank you so much! This helped me with my flower essay project. I wanted to find resources so i could write about this amazing flower the rosy periwinkle and this helped so much!

    • Gaspard wrote on 16 November 2022 at 2 h 26 min

      You’re very welcome! It’s great that you took the time to thank me, too. It made my day!

  • Katrina wrote on 8 May 2021 at 18 h 57 min

    Hi, what are the signs that the flower needs water and what are the signs that it has been overwatered? Also will it be okay if it rains like will it become overwatered?

    • Gaspard wrote on 10 May 2021 at 9 h 29 min

      Hi Katrina, though some of the symptoms are similar (like droopy leaves), it’ll be pretty clear if you check the following:

      underwatering symptoms: dry soil at finger depth and leaves turn light green before switching to yellow and tips turn brown quickly as the leaf dries up.

      overwatering symptoms: wet, moist soil at finger depth and leaves switch from darker green to yellow without turning pale green. Sometimes you’ll notice drops on the tips of leaves in this case.

      A simple test is to take a before/after photo as you give it some water: if it’s underwatered, it’ll seem completely revived after a few hours. If it looks the same, then it’s overwatered… time to take steps to increase drainage!

      Rainfall for outdoor periwinkle shouldn’t be a problem as such. It only becomes a problem if the soil doesn’t drain well. For instance, your flower bed might be at the bottom of a dip in the garden, or the soil is heavy clay that only lets water seep through very slowly. A great way to increase drainage is to “raise” your periwinkle up: create a raised garden bed and plant your flowers about 6 inches (15 cm) or more above the surrounding soil level, and it’ll be fine!

      • Katrina wrote on 10 May 2021 at 19 h 11 min

        Thank you so much for the advice It’s my first plant I want to take care of it well.

  • Arvind Kumar wrote on 15 April 2020 at 4 h 47 min

    sir, How to get a red color in this flower sir? Thanks

    • Gaspard wrote on 17 April 2020 at 12 h 55 min

      Hi Arvind, the only way to have red color in Madagascar Periwinkle is to purchase or find a variety that is red from the beginning. In this article about the different Madagascar Periwinkle varieties, you can look for those with “Red” in their name. Ask your local garden center if they have any for sale, or buy seeds of that variety online.