Vinca Menace

vinca minor common periwinkle
Vinca minor, or common periwinkle in all its finery.

A beautiful flower, is it not? The vinca genus, commonly known as periwinkle, appears within the first few weeks of steady spring weather and continues to flower longer than most, even into the summer. It shields soil from erosive disturbances and outcompetes less aesthetically pleasing weeds. It lives across North America in humid climate zones, but belongs in southern Europe.

Do not get me wrong. I almost love this shady-loving plant. The petals come in one of my favorite colors and the leafs coat the backyard—and elsewhere—with a dark evergreen that crawls close enough to the ground that it leaves the trees and many other flowers alone.

I actually see both varieties, the Vinca minor and Vinca major, all around town. They landscape areas that are not level enough for a clean cut lawn. Although somewhat hazardous, they also cover crumbling rock walls—that is dangerous because if you did not know the rock was crumbling before the vinca took over, you might try traversing unsteady ground and…whoops.

vinca perwinkle mulberry
Red mulberry tree (Morus rubra) in the foreground, but behind it is a jungle of vinca and other similar-growing vines. The gray in top center is a shed.

Vinca likes to intrude. That lawn I mentioned earlier? You better manage it on a regular basis because if vinca is nearby it will work its way into new territory. Every time weather brings high humidity or rain this guy will sprout more stems, distinctly a brighter green than the mature stems.

The difficulty associated with this apocynaceae family member is the so called “stems.” Being a grounded vine, the true stem runs horizontal along or just below the surface. Wherever a vertical stem protrudes up, a cluster of roots pierce down. Once established, vinca wins most wars. The leafs have a thick cuticle that prevents herbicides from getting absorbed. Like a grass, if you mow the plant it will sprout again in little time. Hacking the horizontal stem accomplishes nothing as the vertical stems are technically an aggregation of clones. Get rid of one and another will grow back.

I do not know what to do about them. They beautify the property, their overgrowth even gives me an excuse to breathe some fresh air and entwine my fingers in the dirt, but as an ecologist I should frown upon invasive species.

Vinca, at least, is not the most futile invasive species battle. Where I live that may go to Amur honeysuckle (beast of a bush) or the infamous telephone pole-wrapping kudzu.


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