This rugged evergreen vine is handsome throughout the year but especially so in spring when it covers itself with pretty periwinkle blue blossoms. Click to download a large version of these periwinkles (800x600) to display on your computer desktop.
Common periwinkle is a fast growing vine with slender woody stems that sprawl along the ground, rooting at every node. The leaves are evergreen, opposite, about 2 in (5 cm) long and elliptic in shape. Common periwinkle has violet-blue flowers shaped like funnels with a star shaped mouth of five widely flared lobes, about an inch (2.5 cm) across. The flowers are borne individually at leaf axils and held above the foliage on shoots 4-8 in (10-20 cm) tall. They are produced abundantly in spring and then sporadically through the summer. Several named cultivars are available. 'Alba' has white flowers; 'Atropurpurea' has burgundy flowers, 'Alboplena' has double white flowers, and 'Aureovariegata' has yellow variegated foliage.
Location Vinca minor is native to Europe, from Spain and France east to southern Russia and the Caucasus, from near sea level to over 4000 ft (1200 m) above sea level in the Alps. It has been in cultivation for centuries. Five or six other species of Vinca can be found from northern Africa to central Asia.
Common periwinkle will grow in almost any soil, spreading rapidly to the point of invasiveness in the best sites. Light: Periwinkle is a great groundcover for shady areas under trees, but it tolerates full sun, too. It produces more flowers when grown in full sun. Moisture: Periwinkle grows fastest in a moist soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4-9. This is the hardiest of the periwinkles. Common periwinkle doesn't do as well as big periwinkle in the extreme south where summers are hot and humid. It will need considerable shade in zones 8 and 9. Propagation: Propagate periwinkle by dividing rooted shoots.
Common periwinkle is evergreen, low-growing and able to form tough mats of stems and foliage so it is often used as groundcover for both sunny and shady areas
Common periwinkle is one of the most widely used groundcovers in the U.S. and Europe. It is ideal for covering banks and as an evergreen groundcover in shady areas. Like its close relative, big periwinkle (V. major), common periwinkle can be invasive under ideal growing conditions. You will probably need to cut it back at least annually to keep it in bounds. Common periwinkle is neater and has a finer texture than its big leaved cousin, and it tends to cover the ground more thoroughly.
The names, periwinkle and Vinca come from Old English and ancient Latin respectively, and both refer to wreaths that were woven from the slender stems and worn on the head. Madagascar periwinkle was formerly placed in the genus Vinca, but is now called Catharanthus roseus .
The common periwinkle is the source of an alkaloid called vincamine from which the drug vinpocetine is derived. Vinpocetine and vincamine are widely prescribed in Europe and other parts of the world for the treatment of cerebrovascular and cognitive disorders and to reduce the effects of certain types of stroke. In the United States vinpocetine is commonly known as a "smart drug" that is sold in health food stores as a dietary supplement said to enhance focus and cognition by stimulating blood flow to the brain.
All parts of the periwinkles may cause stomach distress if ingested.