The Living Rainforest

Rosy periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus

Life saver

This pretty plant from Madagascar gives us two very important cancer-fighting medicines: vinblastine and vincristine. Vincristine has helped increase the chance of surviving childhood leukaemia from 10% to 90%, while vinblastine  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

Profit sharing

These medicines have proved very profitable for global pharmaceutical companies. Worldwide sales are worth over £75 million a year, but virtually none of this money finds its way back to Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Some pharmaceutical companies are trying to redress this imbalance by working closely with ethno-botanists and indigenous healers, and sharing profits more equitably.

There are also recent international agreements which have tried to ensure that more profits from the commercial development of animal and plant species return to the countries of origin.



Quick facts

Scientific name
Catharanthus roseus
Native to
Rainforest layer
Forest floor
Maximum height 1 metre
Plant family
IUCN conservation status
Not evaluated – learn more


Rosy periwinkle is endangered in its natural habitat in Madagascar due to deforestation.