Madagascar Periwinkle – Catharanthus roseus

Madagascar Periwinkle is a charming plant with shiny foliage and pretty, five-petalled flowers. Given the right conditions, it is an excellent house plant which will flower profusely from the end of March right through to early autumn.

Madagascar Periwinkle used to be classified as Vinca rosea, and is often sold under that name. Also known as Rose Periwinkle and Old Maid, it will thrive on a sunny windowsill or in a south-facing conservatory. Keep this plant out of reach of children and wash your hands after handling it, as it is poisonous.

This plant is often grown as an annual to ensure a good show of flowers every year, but it can be overwintered at temperatures above 18°C (65°F). Watering and feeding are also important if you want to keep plants for more than one year.Madagascar Periwinkle - Catharanthus roseus

It is a compact, bushy plant 30cm (12in) tall. Dwarf varieties, 15-23cm (6-9in) tall, make ideal windowsill plants. It has oval, glossy green leaves and rose pink, white or mauve flowers up to 4cm (1½in) wide.

Cr. Albus is white-flowered, while Cr. Ocellatus has white flowers with a red centre. Dwarf varieties include: ‘Little Pinkie’, bright rose-pink; ‘Little Bright Eye’, white flowers with pink centres and ‘Magic Carpet Mixed’.

Propagation

Propagate Madagascar Periwinkle by cuttings or seed.

Cuttings

1 In early March, take 8-10cm (3-4in) long cuttings of young shoots. Remove some of the lower leaves, then dip the ends of the cuttings into hormone rooting powder.

2 Plant several cuttings round the edge of a pot filled with an equal-parts mixture of coarse sand and peat-based compost.

3 Cover loosely with a polythene bag and keep at 22°-24°C (72°— 75°F) in a semi-shaded spot. New growth indicates that the cuttings have rooted. Gradually acclimatize the cuttings to a light position, then pot them on into 8cm (3in) pots of soil-based compost.

Growing from seed

1 Sow seed in late winter or early spring in trays of moist seed compost. Put the tray in a propagator or polythene bag.

2 Keep in a warm place where it gets bright, filtered light. The seeds will begin to germinate in about two to three weeks.

3 Uncover and begin to water moderately, allowing the top 1 cm (½in) of compost to dry out between applications. When the seedlings are about 25mm (1 in) high, transfer the strongest ones into 8citi (3in) containers of soil-based compost.

Plant Problems

Fluffy white patches on the stems and beneath the leaves are a sure sign of mealy bugs.

Treatment: Remove with tweezers or with a cotton swab dipped in dilute methylated spirit.

Lack of flowers may be due to the age of the plant or lack of food, water or sunlight.

Treatment: If the plant is young, correct the conditions and feed once a fortnight with a liquid fertilizer from • early spring until autumn. Discard old plants.

Dry, withered leaves mean that the compost is too dry.

Treatment: Increase watering a little, but don’t over-water as this may cause the roots to rot.

PLANT CARE

This plant is fairly easy to grow, providing you water it carefully and keep it warm in winter. When old plants stop flowering well, raise new ones from cuttings or seed and discard the parent plant.

  • Potting: In early spring, repot into soil-based compost. Cutting back stems by about two-thirds will give a bushy plant, but may delay flowering until autumn.
  • Water sparingly all year round, giving just enough to barely moisten the compost. Increase watering slightly in hot weather if leaves begin to dry up and curl.
  • Feeding: Feed every fourteen days from early spring until autumn with a general liquid fertilizer.

GROWING CONDITIONS

  • Light: Madagascar Periwinkle thrives in warmth and direct sunlight, so a south-facing windowsill is ideal. In winter, move it away from the glass, but give it the lightest possible place you can.
  • Temperature: In summer, this plant will flourish in high temperatures. Don’t let the temperature fall below 18°C (65°F) during winter.

When to buy

  • Madagascar Periwinkle is available in flower from garden centres and nurseries. Grow dwarf strains from seed.
  • Choose a well-shaped, bushy plant with glossy leaves and plenty of flower buds. Avoid plants with damaged foliage.
  • Madagascar Periwinkle is often regarded as a short-lived ‘gift’ plant, but it can be kept and brought into flower again.

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