History in the United States
Vinca minor L., common periwinkle, is a perennial evergreen ground cover that is winter hardy. It is closely related to the big leaf periwinkle (V. major L.), except in size and hardiness. Common periwinkle seldom exceeds a height of 6 inches although runners may trail long distances on the ground. The runners root at the node under moist conditions. The thick glossy leaves form a good ground cover. Small blue flowers occur indeterminately from April to September.
Bigleaf periwinkle is native to Mediterranean Europe [1,4], Asia Minor , and northern Africa (review by ). Common periwinkle is native across all of continental Europe as far north as the Baltic States . Both bigleaf [51,55,92,107] and common [29,42,50,55,97,100,103,117] periwinkle are frequently planted in North America and escape from cultivation. Periwinkles may also spread with the dumping of yard waste ([17,37], review by ). A review of 19th-century floras documented periwinkles in the United States by the late 1700s .
In the United States, bigleaf periwinkle has a U-shaped distribution from New York and Massachusetts in the east, south to Georgia, west to California, and north to Washington. Exceptions to this distributional pattern include Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, West Virginia, Florida, Oklahoma, and Nevada. Bigleaf periwinkle does not occur in the majority of the states in the Northern Great Plains or Northern and Central Rockies. Common periwinkle occurs in every state in the eastern United States from Minnesota south to Louisiana. It is discontinuously distributed in the western United States, occurring in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. The Plants Database provides a map of bigleaf and common periwinkle distributions in North America.
Distribution and Habitat in the United States
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Botanical description: The following descriptions cover characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology and are not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g., for bigleaf periwinkle: [29,42,51,78,113]; for common periwinkle: [29,42,78,97,113]).
|Periwinkles are vines [42,113] with scrambling or trailing stolons up to 3 feet (1 m) long and vertical stems 1 foot (30 cm) high . The succulent stems become somewhat woody at the caudex . Bigleaf periwinkle leaves are semievergreen , have a waxy cuticle , and are heart-shaped to triangular. They are 1.5 to 2.5 inches (4 to 6 cm) long . Common periwinkle leaves are evergreen , narrow, elliptic, and 0.8 to 1.8 inches (2 to 4.5 cm) long . |
Periwinkle flowers are violet to blue-lavender, with 5 petals radiating pinwheel-like at right angles from floral a tube. Flowers are infrequently white. The flowers of bigleaf periwinkle are larger than those of common periwinkle .
Periwinkle fruits are slender, cylindrical follicles up to 2 inches (5 cm) long . Follicles dry, split, and release 3 to 5 seeds (review by ). Periwinkle seeds are naked and without a coma .
Periwinkles are "fairly deep-rooted" (review by ). Common periwinkle plants in western Montana exhibited fibrous roots ranging from 1 to 3 inches (3-8 cm) long . Further descriptions of roots were unavailable as of 2009.
Description and Biology
- Plant: vine-like erect or trailing groundcover; mostly evergreen; stems slender.
- Leaves: opposite, dark green, glossy, oval to lance-shaped, thick-textured; may be variegated.
- Flowers, fruits and seeds: flower blue, lavender or white, about 1 in. across, five petals blunt at tip, arranged in spiral; springtime; no fruits or seeds typically.
- Spreads: vegetatively through rhizomes.
- Look-alikes: may be confused with several close relatives of this plant, including bigleaf periwinkle (Vinca major), imported from Europe, and Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), native only to Madagascar, both also invasive in natural areas in the mid-Atlantic and other parts of the United States; and winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei).
General site types: Bigleaf periwinkle occurs in riparian areas ([6,21,29,33,34,49,71,112], reviews by [81,111]), forests (, reviews by [72,111]), grasslands, and coastal dunes (review by ). Bigleaf periwinkle is also associated with sites linked to human activities, including old homesites ([74,78,94], review by ), gardens , roadsides [55,92], "waste" areas ([55,78], review by ), and other highly disturbed areas .
Common periwinkle occurs in forests or "wooded" areas [29,37,45,57,60,78], including both open ([42,100,115], review by ) and closed (, reviews by [72,81]) forest. Common periwinkle also occurs along forest edges (, review by ), within second-growth forest , and in fields or meadows [77,78,90]. Common periwinkle is found along roadsides [3,18,42,47,48,78,94,97,100,115] or trail edges , at homesites ([12,35,50,74,84,85,94,103], review by ), in gardens  or yards , cemeteries [57,97], "waste" places [3,55,78,115], and in other disturbed sites [8,55,101,117]. At an "ancient" archeological site in the oak-beech forest region of France, common periwinkle was most abundant in disturbed areas including abandoned homesites, enclosures, and agricultural terraces, but was also found to a lesser extent in areas that showed no archeological evidence of human disturbance .
Elevation: Periwinkles occur at a range of elevations from sea level to 7,500 feet (2,300 m).
|Elevation for sites with periwinkles in their nonnative ranges|
|Bigleaf periwinkle||California||7 to 650 |
|North Carolina||5 |
|Common periwinkle||Florida||0 |
|West Virginia||1,200 to 2,500 [9,18]|
Climate: In their nonnative ranges, periwinkles do best in mild climates [4,99]. Few authors report climate data for sites with periwinkles; therefore, the climate data presented here may not represent climatic conditions throughout the nonnative ranges of periwinkles. Both species occur near Washington, DC, where the average daily temperature is 55.0 °F (12.8 °C) . In Arkansas, periwinkles occur in an area with hot summers and moderately cool winters; only 4 days/year have snowfall >1.0 inch (2.5 cm). The first and last frosts in this region occur in early April and late October, respectively . Bigleaf periwinkle occurs in the Huachuca Mountains, where mean daily temperatures are 79 °F (26 °C) in July and 48 °F (9 °C) in January . Common periwinkle occurs on sites with mean daily temperatures in January as low as -7.8 °F (-22.1 °C) in New York , and in July as high as 82.2 °F (27.9 °C) in southwestern Georgia .
Annual rainfall is variable across the nonnative ranges of periwinkles.
|Average annual rainfall for sites with periwinkles in their nonnative ranges|
|Species||Location||Annual rainfall (mm)|
|Both species||Arkansas||1,080 |
|Washington, DC||1,114 |
|Bigleaf periwinkle||Arizona||400 |
|North Carolina||1,417 |
|Common periwinkle||Georgia||1,211 to 1,367 |
|New York||890 |
|West Virginia||1,209 |
Periwinkles are somewhat drought tolerant; a review suggests that bigleaf periwinkle is more tolerant of drought than common periwinkle . One review reports that hot, dry weather may cause bigleaf periwinkle death . All bigleaf periwinkles in a greenhouse died after exposure to drying winds and intense heat (>100° F (38° C) for more than 10 days) . Cold weather may damage bigleaf periwinkle (review by ), though one population in Ohio survived 2 of "the most severe winters of the past century, those of 1976 to 1977 and 1977 to 1978" .
Soils: Periwinkles are found on soils with a range of characteristics.
Texture: In the Huachuca Mountains, bigleaf periwinkle occurs mainly on sandy-loam and sandy clay-loam riparian soils . In its native range, common periwinkle is associated with soils of varying textures [35,44,53]. Common periwinkle occurs on silt loams in Ohio  and Illinois , clayey, loamy, and sandy soils in the Northeast , and rocky, sandy soil in Missouri .
Other soil characteristics: A review states that bigleaf periwinkle grows most vigorously in moist soil with only partial sun but may grow in deep shade with "poor" soil . In Georgia, bigleaf periwinkle is associated with acidic clays . Common periwinkle prefers moist sites [28,76,88], though it tolerates moderately well-drained soil . While some sources suggest common periwinkle prefers fertile soil (, review by ), one source states that common periwinkle tolerates soils of low fertility . In the oak-beech forest region of France, common periwinkle occurred on shallow soils ranging from 5.7 to 8.7 inches (14.4-22.1 cm) deep . In its nonnative range, common periwinkle occurs on acid soils [18,68,88]. In France, common periwinkle occurred on soils with pH ranging from 6.7 to 7.2 .
Habitat & Distribution
Range and Habitat in Illinois
few, mostly central, mostly epiphyllous, immersed, black pycnidium of Ascochyta coelomycetous anamorph of Ascochyta vincae causes spots on live leaf of Vinca minor
Remarks: season: 3-5
In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / feeds on
amphigenous, scattered, immersed, then erumpent, dimorphic conidioma of Ceuthospora coelomycetous anamorph of Ceuthospora feurichii feeds on moribund leaf of Vinca minor
Remarks: season: 2-6
Foodplant / saprobe
amphigenous, scattered, abundant pycnidium of Macrophoma coelomycetous anamorph of Macrophoma vincae is saprobic on dead leaf of Vinca minor
Other: sole host/prey
Foodplant / saprobe
Phacidium vincae is saprobic on dead Vinca minor
Foodplant / saprobe
linear, in rows,covered then erumpent pycnidium of Phomopsis coelomycetous anamorph of Phomopsis lirella is saprobic on dead, dry stem of Vinca minor
Foodplant / parasite
Puccinia vincae parasitises live sterile, unnaturally erect of stem of Vinca minor
Other: unusual host/prey
Fuels and Fire Regimes
Fuels: As of this writing (2009), there was no information available regarding the flammability of periwinkles. Some evidence suggests that periwinkles may alter local fuel characteristics by changing community structure, litter dynamics, fuel arrangement, and understory temperatures. In Michigan, understory structure in a mixed-hardwood dune successional forest was changed when mats of common periwinkle replaced canopy tree seedlings and herbaceous understory plants . Common periwinkle also greatly reduced the overall accumulation of leaf litter in this area (Bultman personal observation cited in ). In mature oak-hickory forest in southwestern Illinois, common periwinkle in the understory led to an increase in the amount of vegetated surface area . Near Sydney, Australia, areas dominated by bigleaf periwinkle had significantly cooler temperatures than sites with little bigleaf periwinkle cover (P<0.01) . The impact of these altered fuel characteristics likely varies based on departure from historical conditions and the dynamics of local FIRE REGIMES.
FIRE REGIMES: It is not known what type of fire regime periwinkles are best adapted to. In North America, periwinkles are found in plant communities that historically experienced long (e.g., northern hardwood, southern floodplain forests) and short (e.g., Appalachian oak-hickory-pine forests) fire-return intervals (see the Fire Regime Table). In many areas where periwinkles occur, historical FIRE REGIMES have been dramatically altered due to fire exclusion and massive disturbances associated with human settlement.
It is unclear how the presence of periwinkles may affect FIRE REGIMES in invaded communities. In ecosystems where periwinkles replace plants with similar fuel characteristics, they may alter fire intensity or slightly modify an existing fire regime. If periwinkle spread introduces novel fuel properties to the invaded ecosystem, fire behavior, and potentially fire regime, may be altered (see these citations: [14,26]). This topic warrants additional study.
See the Fire Regime Table for further information on FIRE REGIMES of vegetation communities in which periwinkles may occur.
Vegetative regeneration is very important to the establishment and spread of both bigleaf ([74,113], reviews by [81,111]) and common ([66,88], review by ) periwinkles. Bigleaf periwinkle spreads with "great rapidity" by arching stolons, which root at the tips (review by ). Periwinkles form mats and extensive infestations even under forest canopies (, review by ). Given their ability to spread with the dumping of yard waste ([17,37], review by ), it is likely that periwinkles establish from plant fragments.
Bigleaf periwinkle grows in patches around the bases of trees or spreads up and down drainages through vegetative spread (review by ). In Belgium, common periwinkle distribution was not significantly clumped within forest patches despite its inability to disperse long distances (P>0.05) . See Impacts for more information about vegetative rate of spread in periwinkles.
Stolons and roots of common periwinkle.
- Vegetative regeneration
- Pollination and breeding system
- Seed production
- Seed dispersal
- Seed banking
- Seedling establishment and plant growth
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
More info for the terms: chamaephyte, hemicryptophyte
Raunkiaer  life form:
Seedling establishment and plant growth
Documentation of periwinkle establishment by seed is rare. Bigleaf periwinkle seedlings were found in riparian areas in California , though seedlings are rarely found in the field (review by ). Documentation of common periwinkle seedlings was not found in the literature as of 2009.
Limitations to periwinkle growth have been infrequently documented. Bigleaf periwinkle growth is limited by dry or cold temperatures, and hot, dry weather may cause death (review by ). Bigleaf periwinkle was limited to shady areas of a riparian canyon bottom at the Ramsey Canyon Preserve (Gebow 2009 personal communication ).
Life History and Behavior
Common periwinkle generally flowers from between March and June depending on location [4,29,42,45,50,78,97]. In Georgia, most common periwinkle flowering occurs in early March, though flowering was observed as early as 28 February . Common periwinkle fruits are produced from May to July in the southeastern United States (, review by ).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Vinca minor
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Vinca minor
Public Records: 11
Specimens with Barcodes: 15
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Pests and potential problems
Common periwinkle can be affected by blight, canker, leaf spot, and root rot.
Prevention and Control
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
‘Alba’, ‘Atropurpurea’, ‘Bowles’, ‘Variegata’, ‘Multiplex.’ Seedlings are available at most commercial nurseries.
Please contact your local agricultural extension specialist or county weed specialist to learn what works best in your area and how to use it safely. Always read label and safety instructions for each control method. Trade names and control measures appear in this document only to provide specific information. USDA, NRCS does not guarantee or warranty the products and control methods named, and other products may be equally effective.
Little or no maintenance is required after establishment. Well-established plantings may be clipped to promote new growth. Chemical or mechanical weeding may be need to control unwanted vegetation.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Palatability and/or nutritional value: Periwinkles are generally unpalatable and have little nutritional value. Bigleaf periwinkle is listed as poisonous in South Africa . Common periwinkle was an infrequent food item of the volcano rabbit in Mexico  and white-tailed deer in Indiana . Caged Canada geese would not feed on common periwinkle, even when it was the only forage available .
Cover value: No information is available on this topic.
Erosion control: Its use should normally be restricted to partially shaded areas and north or east exposures on ramps and inclines. It should be considered on roadsides in specially adapted locations and sites.
Ornamental and beautification: Common periwinkle is particularly desirable as an attractive evergreen ground cover in mild climates. It is valuable on yards, banks, or odd areas as a low maintenance ground cover. It tolerates light traffic but should not be used where frequent trampling occurs.
Ecological Threat in the United States
Vinca minor (common names lesser periwinkle or dwarf periwinkle) is a species of flowering plant native to central and southern Europe, from Portugal and France north to the Netherlands and the Baltic States, east to the Caucasus, and also southwestern Asia in Turkey. Other vernacular names used in cultivation include small periwinkle, common periwinkle, and sometimes in the United States, myrtle or creeping myrtle, although this is misleading, as the name myrtle normally refers to the Myrtus species.
Vinca minor is a trailing, viny subshrub, spreading along the ground and rooting along the stems to form large clonal colonies and occasionally scrambling up to 40 centimetres (16 in) high but never twining or climbing. The leaves are evergreen, opposite, 2–4.5 centimetres (0.79–1.77 in) long and 1–2.5 centimetres (0.39–0.98 in) broad, glossy dark green with a leathery texture and an entire margin.
The flowers are solitary in the leaf axils and are produced mainly from early spring to mid summer but with a few flowers still produced into the autumn; they are violet-purple (pale purple or white in some cultivated selections), 2–3 centimetres (0.79–1.18 in) diameter, with a five-lobed corolla. The fruit is a pair of follicles 2.5 centimetres (0.98 in) long, containing numerous seeds.
The closely related species Vinca major is similar, but larger in all parts, and also has relatively broader leaves with a hairy margin.
The species is commonly grown as a groundcover in temperate gardens for its evergreen foliage, spring and summer flowers, ease of culture, and dense habit that smothers most weeds. The species has few pests or diseases outside its native range and is widely naturalised and classified as an invasive species in parts of North America. Invasion can be restricted by removal of rooting stems in spring. Once established, it is difficult to eradicate, as its waxy leaves shed most water-based herbicide sprays. Removal involves cutting, followed by immediate application of concentrated glyphosphate or triclopyr to the cut stems. Repeated chemical treatments may be necessary, along with digging up the roots where feasible.
There are numerous cultivars, with different flower colours and variegated foliage. Many have a less vigorous habit than the species, and are therefore more suitable for smaller gardens. The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-
- 'Argenteovariegata' (leaves have creamy white margins)
- 'Atropurpurea' (purple flowers)
- 'Azurea Flore Pleno' (double blue flowers)
- 'La Grave' (violet flowers)
Vinca minor contains more than 50 alkaloids, and vincamine is the molecule responsible for Vinca's nootropic activity. Other alkaloids include reserpine, reserpinine, akuammicine, majdine, vinerine, ervine, vineridine, tombozine, vincamajine, vincanine, vincanidine, vincamone, apovincamine, vincaminol, desoxyvincaminol, vincorine and perivincine.
Vinpocetine (brand names: Cavinton, Intelectol; chemical name: ethyl apovincaminate) is a semisynthetic derivative alkaloid of vincamine.
The color name periwinkle is derived from the flower.
- "BSBI List 2007" (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original on 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- Foster, Rachel. "So Many Myrtles — Unraveling the confusion and contradiction". Retrieved August 19, 2012.
- "Vinca minor L. Common periwinkle". USDA. Plants Profile. Retrieved August 26, 2006.
- "Vines". NPS. November 11, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
- "Vinca minor Argenteovariegata". RHS. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
- "Vinca minor Atropurpurea". RHS. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
- "Vinca minor Azurea Flore Pleno". RHS. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
- "Vinca minor La Grave". RHS. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
- Khanavi, M.; Pourmoslemi, S.; Farahanikia, B.; Hadjiakhoondi, A.; Ostad, S. N. (2010). "Cytotoxicity ofVinca minor". Pharmaceutical Biology 48 (1): 96–100. doi:10.3109/13880200903046187. PMID 20645762.
- Tulyaganov, T. S.; Nigmatullaev, A. M. (2000). Chemistry of Natural Compounds 36 (5): 540. doi:10.1023/A:1002820414086.
- Smeyers, Y. G.; Smeyers, N. J.; Randez, J. J.; Hernandez-Laguna, A.; Galvez-Ruano, E. (1991). "A structural and pharmacological study of alkaloids of Vinca Minor". Molecular Engineering 1 (2): 153. doi:10.1007/BF00420051.
- Yasui, Y.; Kinugawa, T.; Takemoto, Y. (2009). "Synthetic studies on vincorine: Access to the 3a,8a-dialkyl-1,2,3,3a,8,8a-hexahydropyrrolo\2,3-b]indole skeleton". Chemical Communications (28): 4275. doi:10.1039/b907210a.
- Farnsworth, N. R.; Draus, F. J.; Sager, R. W.; Bianculli, J. A. (2006). "Studies on Vinca major L. (Apocynaceae) I. Isolation of perivincine". Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association 49 (9): 589. doi:10.1002/jps.3030490908.
- Flora Europaea: Vinca minor distribution
- Morphology and ecology of Vinca minor (in Spanish)
- Borealforest: Vinca minor
- Vinca minor (from Ohio State University's Pocket Gardener)
- Common periwinkle (as an invasive species; includes photos)
- Blamey, M., & Grey-Wilson, C. (1989). Flora of Britain and Northern Europe. Hodder & Stoughton.
- Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening 4: 665. Macmillan.
Names and Taxonomy
Vinca major L., bigleaf periwinkle
Vinca minor L., common periwinkle
In this review, species are referred to by their common names, and "periwinkles" refers to both species.
Numerous periwinkle cultivars are available [30,66].
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