Vinca minor (Lesser Periwinkle) is a plant native to central and southern Europe, from Portugal and France north to the Netherlands and the Baltic States, and east to the Caucasus, and also in southwestern Asia in Turkey. The species is commonly grown as a ground cover 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 it native range and is widely naturalised and classified as an invasive species in parts of North America.
Other vernacular names used in cultivation include Small Periwinkle, Common Periwinkle, and sometimes Myrtle or Creeping Myrtle in parts of the United States.
Vinca minor grows as a trailing vine or subshrub, spreading along the ground and rooting along the stems to form large clonal colonies and occasionally scrambling up to 40 cm high but never twining or climbing. The leaves are evergreen, opposite, 2-4.5 cm long and 1-2.5 cm 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 cm diameter, with a five-lobed corolla. The fruit is a pair of follicles 2.5 cm long, containing numerous seeds.
The closely related species Vinca major is similar but larger in all parts, and with relatively broader leaves with a hairy margin.
There are numerous cultivars, with different flower colours and variegated foliage, including 'Argenteovariegata' (white leaf edges), 'Aureovariegata' (yellow leaf edges), 'Gertrude Jekyll' (white flowers), and 'Plena' (double flowers).
Ethnomedically, the dried leaves, aerial parts, and in some cases the entire plant of Vinca, are used to enhance blood circulation, including that of the brain, enhance metabolism in the brain, and to treat cardiovascular disorders. Vincamine is the pharmaceutical molecule responsible for Vinca's nootropic activity.
The stems and foliage are often used in cut flower arrangements as well, providing a dark, glossy base or allowed to cascade over the vase's lip.
Vining weeds such as Mock Strawberry and crown vetch can be a serious problem, so careful monitoring should be kept up in order to catch these problems early. Grasses (especially lawn grasses) can also establish in Vinca patches, and can be difficult to remove without ripping up the vines in the process, so care should be taken when overseeding nearby lawns.
Heavy leaves should not be allowed to sit on the vines through the winter, as fungal diseases often result. Likewise, mulches should not be added over the vines, and if bulbs are interplanted, the dying bulb foliage should be kept off the vine's foliage.
During severe winters, the plant may be burned and lose its foliage. It regrows quickly in the spring, but extra care should be taken to keep weeds from establishing themselves before the leaves can shade the soil.
Pests and diseases
- 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.