Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Mém. Mus. natl. Hist. nat., Paris n.s. 27: 237 (1949).
2n = 16
Origin and geographic distribution
Catharanthus trichophyllus is endemic to Madagascar, where it occurs mainly in the northern part.
The bitter root decoction of Catharanthus trichophyllus is reputed for its stimulant properties, and is applied especially against venereal diseases, impotency and back-ache. It is also taken against toothache. A leaf decoction is taken to treat bilious fevers and dysentery and as an aphrodisiac. Externally, a decoction of the aerial parts is applied as a haemostatic. An infusion of all parts is taken to treat liver diseases and to stabilize the blood composition. The bitter flowers are given to people with diabetes, who chew them to lessen their appetite.
The aerial parts of Catharanthus trichophyllus contain mainly monomeric indole alkaloids, of which vindoline is the most important; tetrahydroalstonine, catharanthine, serpentine and vindolinine occur as minor components. The roots contain mainly serpentine, and minor components are the dimeric vincristine, but also the monomeric ajmalicine, catharanthine, lochnericine, hörhammericine, tetrahydroalstonine and cathaphylline. All alkaloids in the roots and leaves occur in lower amounts than in Catharanthus roseus (L.) G.Don. Lochnericine and hörhammericine are responsible for part of the cytotoxic activity.
Undershrub up to 1 m tall, with white latex and a rather unpleasant smell; stems and branches reddish to purple, quadrangular, winged. Leaves opposite, simple and entire, almost sessile; stipules 2–5 at each side of the leaf base; blade oblong to narrowly ovate, 2.5–8.5 cm × 1–4 cm, base rounded to cuneate, apex acuminate, herbaceous, margin ciliate, more or less hairy on both sides. Inflorescence axillary, 1–2-flowered. Flowers bisexual, 5-merous, regular; pedicel 4–11 mm long, quadrangular; sepals slightly fused at base, 6–10 mm long, apex long-acuminate; corolla tube cylindrical, 22–26 mm long, widening near the insertion of the stamens, throat constricted, with a ring of hairs just below the throat and another below the insertion of the stamens, glabrous or laxly hairy, green, pinkish at base, lobes narrowly obovate, 8–18 mm long, densely shortly hairy at base, spreading, white, pink, red, purple, yellowish 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, 14–19 mm long, pistil head cylindrical with a ring of woolly hairs, stigma minute. Fruit composed of 2 free cylindrical follicles 3–7 cm long, striate, glabrous to laxly hairy, green to purplish green, dehiscent, 10–20-seeded. Seeds oblong, 2.5–3 mm long, grooved at one side, dark brown. 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 trichophyllus flowers and fruits from July to May.
Catharanthus trichophyllus occurs on river banks, in open localities in forest, along forest edges and roadsides, on sand, gneiss-derived soil and laterite, from sea-level up to 1400 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Catharanthus trichophyllus does not seem to be endangered by genetic erosion because it has a wide ecological adaptation. Catharanthus trichophyllus has been successfully crossed with Catharanthus roseus, with the F1 having a high seed set and good viability only when Catharanthus trichophyllus was the female parent. The alkaloid profiles of the two species are different, and alkaloid production is higher in hybrids than in the parent species. Artificial hybridization was also successful between Catharanthus trichophyllus and Catharanthus ovalis Markgr. or Catharanthus coriaceus Markgr. All Catharanthus spp. are self-compatible; only for Catharanthus roseus do self-compatible and self-incompatible strains occur.
Catharanthus trichophyllus contains moderate amounts of mainly monomeric alkaloids, but hybrids formed through crossing with Catharanthus roseus have much higher alkaloid content, indicating the potential of breeding hybrids for improved alkaloid production.
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Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Catharanthus trichophyllus (Baker) Pichon. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.