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Periwinkle

Vinca minor L. (Family: Apocynaceae)

 

Also known as: common periwinkle, vinca, myrtle, ground myrtle, creeping myrtle, flower-of-death

 

Periwinkle, an evergreen trailing groundcover, is a common invader throughout most of the United States. It is native to Europe, where it was commonly known in folklore as the “flower of death” because its vines were woven into headbands worn by dead children or criminals on their way to execution. Unfortunately, it may deserve the same name in North America, as the extensive mats it forms on forest floors can choke out native wildflowers and other plants.

 

Origin: Periwinkle is native to Europe and was first introduced into North America in the 1700s as an ornamental. It is still commonly sold and planted as an ornamental ground cover around shrubbery and along the foundations of buildings in both residential and commercial areas.

 

Description:

  • Perwinkle is a trailing vine that can reach up to 6 feet in length and about 6 inches in height.

  • Twining stems are slender, smooth, and herbaceous but somewhat woody.

  • Dark green leaves are opposite, oval or lance-shaped, glossy, somewhat thick and leathery, and about an inch long. Leaves may be variegated in color and have whitish veins.

  • Flowers bloom in April and May, and then sporadically from June to September. Flowers are typically lavender in color with a white star-shaped throat, but may be violet, blue, or white. Blooms are solitary, usually about an inch across, and have a pinwheel-like appearance.

  • The bean-like periwinkle fruits, if they develop at all, are inconspicuous.

  • Periwinkle reproduces vegetatively through underground runners, or stems above the ground can form roots where nodes touch the ground.

 

Habitat description: A creeping perennial vine, Periwinkle forms dense mats of groundcover in partially shaded forests. This vine is evergreen with distinct purple-violet flowers in the spring and summer. Periwinkle is often found near old home sites where it was and is still used for a landscaping ground cover. Extensive "carpets" of Periwinkle can be seen along Yellowwood Lake Rd. near the State Forest office and campgrounds.


Distribution: Periwinkle has escaped cultivation and has begun to invade natural areas throughout the eastern United States. It is often found in open or dense forests around former plantings near old abandoned homesteads. Other habitats include woodland borders, rocky bluffs or banks, cemeteries, city parks where woody vegetation occurs, and semi-shaded areas along roads.

 

Problem: Periwinkle can form dense and extensive carpets on the forest floor that cover large areas of ground in a monotypic evergreen color, smothering native wildflowers and other herbaceous or woody species. It grows vigorously and can thrive in complete shade and even poor soil.

 

Control: Periwinkle can be pulled, raked, or dug up, though resprouting will occur. It can be cut or mowed in the spring, followed by a foliar application of glyphosate on new sprouts. If using herbicide alone, application should be done between July and October. Leaves should be wet thoroughly with triclopyr or glyphosate mixed according to label instructions plus a non-ionic surfactant. Treatments in successive years will probably be necessary.

 

USE PESTICIDES WISELY: Always read the entire pesticide label carefully, follow all mixing and application instructions and wear all recommended personal protective gear and clothing. Contact your state department of agriculture for any additional pesticide use requirements, restrictions or recommendations.