San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Easy-Care Madagascar Periwinkles

HERE’S a tropicalhome-gardenornamental thatmerits a gold medalfor beauty andenvironmentalfriendliness.Known as rose orMadagascar periwinkles(Catharanthusroseus),these lovely flowersare seen inmost regions ofthe country ascommon patio ornamentals. In Spanish,they are called mariposillas or chavelitas.Although Madagascar was the originalhome of the rose periwinkle, it is nowfound naturalized around the world intropical climates. The flowers come inmany colors varying from pure white andpastel rose to violet, red or orange. Theybloom most of the year, while the glossy,evergreen, opposite leaves provide adense cover for planter boxes, flowerbeds,foundation plantings and as borders forwalkways.THE Madagascar periwinkle is one ofthe hardiest home-garden ornamentals,requiring little care or maintenance. Sincethey are insect and bug resistant, they donot require risky and expensive pesticidesor fungicides. Periwinkles grow in a widerange of well-drained soils and thrive onthe typical red-clay soil so common in thetropics. Additions of homemade organiccompost will keep your periwinkleshealthy and blooming throughout theyear; however, over-fertilization can resultin heavy foliage production and poorflowering.Periwinkles grow well in full sun orpartial shade, making them versatile forplanting locations. Leading nurseriesaround the country offer a wide variety ofcolorful periwinkles, but you can also trystarting them at home from woody stemcuttings or seeds. Neighbors may be willingto supply you with young seedlingplants that emerge beneath mature plants.Young cuttings and seedlings shouldbe started in flats or cups in partial shadeand watered regularly. As the plantsbecome well rooted, slowly introducethem into full light conditions, so they canbe transplanted to their permanent sites.Once they are well established, there’s notmuch more to do than enjoy their beautifulblooms around the home.IT’S interesting to note that theMadagascar periwinkle is a virtual cornucopiaof useful alkaloids. Recently,extracts from these plants have beenshown to be effective in the treatment ofvarious kinds of leukemia, skin cancer,lymph cancer, breast cancer andHodgkin’s disease. A modern-day successstory in the search for naturally occurringanticancer drugs, the plant is now growncommercially for its medicinal uses inAustralia, Africa, India and southernEurope.Why not invite this award-winningornamental into the garden this year? I’msure you’ll enjoy the company. Until nexttime, happy gardening!For more information on tropical gardeningand medicinal plants, be sure tovisit or have books, seeds and classes to sharewith you.

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