Vinca minor (Periwinkle)
|Also known as:||Creeping Myrtle, Running Myrtle, Lesser Periwinkle|
|Life cycle:||perennial, perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade, sun; moist to dry disturbed soil; woods, thickets, forest edges, bluffs, abandoned homesteads|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||4 to 8 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Flowers are single in leaf axils along branching stems, trumpet-shaped, about 1 inch diameter with 5 spreading lobes, on a slender stalk that may be longer than the attending leaf. Flower color varies from blue to violet, sometimes white. The calyx cupping the flower has 5 narrow lobes shorter than the floral tube. Inside the tube are 5 stamens and a green style.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are opposite, evergreen, leathery, lance-elliptic to egg-shaped, ½ to 2 inches long, up to 1 inch wide, toothless, hairless, blunt to pointed at the tip, and on a short stalk. New leaves may initially be bright green, the upper surface becoming shiny dark green, the lower more silvery. Stems are woody near the base, may reach 6 feet long but creep along the ground, rooting at the nodes and forming dense mats; flowering branches more erect but rarely exceed 8 inches tall.
A flower may produce a pair of slender bean-like pods ¾ to 1 inch long, each containing a few seeds, but fruit is rarely produced.
Periwinkle is a European introduction long touted in the nursery trade as a tough, fast-growing ground cover; there are a number of cultivars bred for flower color and/or variegated leaves. It can escape cultivation and is particularly problematic in woodlands, where it can form dense mats and crowd out native species; it is currently considered invasive in Wisconsin. One report from Indiana noted it covering acres of native forest forming a stand so dense it excluded nearly all other vegetation, including reproduction of the trees. It's only been recorded once in Minnesota, escaped from a cemetery planting in Rice County, but is likely under-reported here.
Periwinkle is recognized by its low-growing form with creeping stems; shiny, evergreen, opposite leaves; stalked flowers single in the leaf axils, typically blue to violet with 5 spreading lobes; fruit is a pair of bean-like pods but are rarely produced. The flowers resemble those of a Phlox, which have a terminal cluster of flowers; all of the native Phlox in Minnesota have erect stems, not creeping. The leathery, evergreen leaves vaguely resemble some low-growing members of the Ericaceae family, such as Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) or Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), which have alternate leaves, clusters of small bell-shaped flowers, and typically abundant bright red, berry-like fruit.
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- Periwinkle plant, starting to run
- Periwinkle with Wild Ginger
- Periwinkle on its way to forming a dense mat
- Periwinkle naturalizing at a forest edge
- Periwinkle invading a woodland with Buckthorn
Photos by K. Chayka taken at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis, and in Missouri. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken at Eloise Butler and in private gardens in Anoka County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?