Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Mém. Mus. natl. Hist. nat., Paris n.s. 27: 237 (1949).
2n = 16
Lance-leaf periwinkle (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Catharanthus lanceus is endemic to Madagascar, where it occurs mainly in the central part.
A root decoction of Catharanthus lanceus is taken against toothache or fever, and as a purgative, contracting agent and vermifuge. The leaves are bitter, astringent and emetic. A decoction of the aerial parts is taken to stimulate the flow of breast milk. It is also taken as an anodyne, diuretic and general tonic. Externally, the decoction is applied against several skin problems and as a haemostatic.
Production and international trade
Catharanthus lanceus is used locally, but is also exported as a medicinal plant, although no details of destination or amounts traded are known.
Several pharmacologically active alkaloids have been isolated from the aerial parts of Catharanthus lanceus, e.g. leurosine, perivine, yohimbine, cathanneine, tetrahydroalstonine, leurocristine, periformyline, vincristine and vindolinine.
The alkaloid fractions of Catharanthus lanceus have shown hypotensive activity. The main active compound is yohimbine, a potent α-adrenergic blocker, but several other compounds play a role as well. A lyophilized aqueous extract was found to show anti-tumour activity, with leurosine as the most potent compound. Some alkaloids have a hypoglycaemic effect. Leurocristine, perivine, periformyline and vincristine show antiviral activity in vitro against some human pathogens.
Perennial decumbent herb up to 1 m tall, with white latex; taproot carrot-shaped, up to 70 cm long; stems and branches reddish, almost quadrangular, internodes much longer than the leaves. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipules 1–3 at each side of the leaf base; petiole 1–3 mm long; blade oblong to narrowly ovate, 1–4.5 cm × 3–13 mm, base cuneate, apex acuminate to rounded, herbaceous to thinly leathery, shiny on both sides, glabrous. Flowers in leaf axils, bisexual, 5-merous, regular, fragrant; pedicel 5–25(–32) mm long; sepals slightly fused at base, 5–10 mm long; corolla tube cylindrical, 15–22 mm long, widening near the insertion of the stamens, throat constricted, inside with a ring of hairs just below the throat and a ring of hairs below the insertion of the stamens, green, pinkish at base, lobes ovate to obovate, 11–22 mm long, densely shortly hairy inside, spreading, pink, reddish violet or pale pink-magenta, white to cream at the base; stamens inserted just below the corolla throat, included, filaments very short; ovary superior, consisting of 2 very narrowly oblong carpels, style slender, 10–16 mm long, pistil head cylindrical with a reflexed transparent frill and with rings of woolly hairs at base and apex, stigma minute. Fruit composed of 2 free cylindrical follicles 1.5–5 cm long, striate, glabrous, green, dehiscent, 10–20-seeded. Seeds oblong, 1–3 mm long, grooved at one side, black. Seedling with epigeal germination.
Catharanthus comprises 8 species, all originating from Madagascar except for Catharanthus pusillus (Murr.) G.Don, which is restricted to India and Sri Lanka. Catharanthus lanceus flowers and fruits from September to May.
Catharanthus lanceus occurs on volcanic soil, laterite covering quartzite and granitic rock, in periodically burned areas, in open woodland on ridges, among rocks on hillsides, in ruderal grassland and along roadsides, at 750–2000 m altitude. It prefers sunny localities.
Genetic resources and breeding
Catharanthus lanceus is probably not threatened by genetic erosion, although it is not common in its distribution area.
Catharanthus lanceus contains several pharmacological active alkaloids, with similar importance as those found in Catharanthus roseus (L.) G.Don. More research is needed to identify all alkaloids and their pharmacological activities, as the information which is available is rather outdated and very incomplete.
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• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
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• Debray, M., Jacquemin, H. & Razafindrambao, R., 1971. Contribution à l’inventaire des plantes médicinales de Madagascar. Travaux et Documents No 8. ORSTOM, Paris, France. 150 pp.
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• Farnsworth, N.R., Loub, W.D. & Blomster, R.N., 1963. Studies on Catharanthus lanceus (Vinca lancea). 1. Isolation of leurisine, perivine, and yohimbine. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 52: 1114.
• Farnsworth, N.R., Svoboda, G.H. & Blomster, R.N., 1986. Antiviral activity of selected Catharanthus alkaloids. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 57(12): 2174–2175.
• Pernet, R. & Meyer, G., 1957. Pharmacopeé de Madagascar. Publications de l’Institut de Recherche Scientifique Tananarive-Tsimbazaza. Pierre André Impr., Paris, France. 86 pp.
• Plaizier, A.C., 1981. A revision of Catharanthus roseus (L.) G.Don (Apocynaceae). Mededelingen Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen 81–9, Wageningen, Netherlands. 12 pp.
• Ramanankierana, H., 2000. Régénération in vitro de Catharanthus lanceus. Evaluation de la variation somaclonale. Mémoire de DEA Biochimie, Option Biotechnologie et Microbiologie, Faculté des Sciences, Université d’Antananarivo, Antananarivo, Madagascar. 57 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Catharanthus lanceus (Bojer ex A.DC.) Pichon. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.