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Image of Catharanthus

James H. Schutte



Botanical Name


Plant Common Name


Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

Approximately 200 genera and 2000 species of vines, shrubs, herbs, and trees make up the dogbane family. Most members of the Apocynaceae occur in the tropics and subtropics, but some are native to temperate regions. Among their distinctive features is the thick milky sap exuded by damaged leaves and stems. This latex is is often irritating to the skin, or toxic if ingested.

The dogbane family is home to many popular ornamental plants grown for their handsome foliage and their showy, often intensely fragrant flower clusters. Some members of the Apocynaceae are garden or greenhouse curiosities, with unusual succulent leaves or swollen stems.

Plants in the Apocynaceae have opposite or whorled, simple, untoothed leaves, often with distinctive glandular hairs at the bases of the leaf stems. The trumpet- or funnel-shaped flowers are borne in flat or elongated clusters at the stem tips or leaf nodes. Individual blooms have five overlapping petals that together form a tube with flaring lobes. Each petal may have a fringed appendage on its inside surface. The flowers are followed by variously shaped dehiscent fruits that open via a single suture to release flattened, often silky-plumed seeds. Some members of the family are prolific self-sowers.

Among the popular ornamental herbaceous plants in the dogbane family are the tender perennial Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle, also an important medicinal plant), and the hardy perennials Amsonia tabernaemontana (Texas bluestar) and Amsonia hubrichtii (threadleaf or Hubricht's bluestar). The ubiquitous evergreen groundcover Vinca minor (periwinkle) and its kin are the only widely grown hardy shrubs in the dogbane family. Tender woody ornamentals abound, including vines (e.g., Allamada, Mandevilla and Trachelospermum); evergreen shrubs and trees (such as Nerium oleander, Carissa macrocarpa and Kopsia arborea); and fat-stemmed succulents (Adenium, Pachypodium, and others).

Recent taxonomic treatments of the Apocynaceae often merge the Asclepiadaceae (milkweed family) with it.


  • AHS Heat Zone

    9 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    12 - 15

  • Native To


Growing Conditions

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest


  • Fruit Color


Special Characteristics