Many are the times that people have cultivated periwinkle plants for their aesthetic value. But as time has passed, it has become clear that the common periwinkle is a weed. You may know it by other names such as the running myrtle, creeping myrtle and the lesser myrtle, among other names. Scientifically, it goes by the name Vinca Minor L.
The name Vinca comes from an ancient Roman naming of the plant, Vincapervinca. This name gives rise to the periwinkle part of the name. The nomenclature refers to the tangling nature of the plant. When translated, the name means bonds through bonds. The minor part of the naming is in reference to the other periwinkle, the Vinca major. The major is a much bigger species, and part of the periwinkle family. The common periwinkle belongs to the Dogbane family.
Identification of common periwinkle
Having an invasive weed in your outdoors can have pretty devastating effects on desirable plants in your home. Where this weed establishes in a natural area such as a forest, the repercussions of this can last through the years. It is thus essential to have an idea of its physical characteristics to help you identify it in time:
The common periwinkle has a slender evergreen stem that can measure anything from ten to 25 inches in height. The length of the stem will depend on how favorable the growing conditions are. The stem branches out as the plant grows, and in this way, it forms a mat on the ground.
The leaves occur on opposite sides of the stem, and they have dark green hues. They feature oval shapes with sharp tips and narrow bases. They have thick layers and appear glossy, and will measure anything from one to four inches in length.
The flowers are often bluish-purple, but this shade can be whitish or violet in some cases. A stem will carry a single flower.
The fruits occur in the form of cylindrical pods, and they measure one to two inches in length.
Common periwinkle Look-Alikes
Coming across a plant meeting the above description might have you thinking you have common periwinkle on your land. While you may be right, it helps to note that common periwinkle has similarities to other plants. Examples of look-alikes include Vinca Major, Lonicera caprifolium, and Vincetoxicum spp.
Take the Lonicera caprifolium as an example. You can tell it apart from the periwinkle owing to the state of the stems and the corolla. The periwinkle has glabrous stems with a full corolla that is often a deep purple. But with the Lonicera, the corolla will have a pale purple hue. In some cases, it could be pink, yellow, or white.
It could be that you cannot get a specimen of the corollas at the time of identification. In this case, you can rely on the features of the leaves or the stems. The Lonicera has connate leaves, while the minor has ovate leaves.
You can tell the V. Minor apart from the V. Major by looking at the size of the leaves and the flowers. Generally, the Major has bigger leaves and flowers. Their growing characteristics also differ. The minor does not do well in heat and is hardy when grown in cold climates. The matting techniques are also different.
History of running myrtle
This species, like many other invasive weeds, got introduced to North America as an ornamental plant. It is native to Europe but can now be found in many states in the United States of America. Its introduction took place at the start of the eighteenth century and continued through the centuries. As a result, this species is widespread through the region, which hurts control measures as to this weed’s spread.
It is a perennial evergreen plant that reproduces through stems and stolons developing at the nodes. In this way, it creates a dense layer on the ground, somewhat like a mat. For this reason, people look to it as a means to achieve beautiful landscapes. And they plant it with this in mind.
However, there is a downside to this bedding behavior. As the plant grows and spreads out, it crowds out native plants. It introduces unhealthy competition, which eventually pushes out native species. It is thus an invasive plant that should not be near natural areas.
An excellent example of a site it would readily invade would be conifer forests where it can inhibit the growth of native species. On the ground, you will see a beautiful groundcover. But the reality will be a distortion in the ecological balance, which will threaten the growth of other species.
Where can you find common periwinkle?
The distribution of the common periwinkle will depend on its introduction. Where the introduction is intentional, the plant will be in gardens and landscapes. Where it is as a result of an accidental introduction, it could be anywhere.
It has a preference for lowland zones, more so near wastelands and roadsides. It can also grow in mid-level elevations but will generally not be present in rocky mountain areas.
Creeping myrtle growth
How does it grow?
Creeping myrtle flowers regularly as from April to May. From this point onwards, the flowers appear one by one, depending on how favorable the weather conditions are. The flowers have a pale white ring, which proves attractive to bees, which are the primary pollinators of creeping myrtle.
Pollination leads to the development of non-fleshy follicles, which are the fruits. Each fruit contains three to five seeds, which are un-winged, rough, and cylindrical.
For this plant, there is little information as to its sexual reproduction. It thus follows that its primary means of propagation would be vegetative. Studies show that it spreads through adventitious roots and rhizomes.
Where does it grow?
The common periwinkle has a preference for moist sites and well-drained soils. These are often found in forested areas as well as riverine areas. It can do well in shaded conditions and can adapt to a wide range of growing conditions. This adaptability makes it a threat to native species.
It also grows in disturbed areas such as roadsides and wood edges. It is important to note that when growing under the intense sun, the leaves of this plant turn yellow.
Can you use common periwinkle?
The leaves of this plant, though bitter, have proven to be useful. People often crush them and use them on wounds as a way to alleviate pain and fight infections. They can also make mouthwashes, which help relieve sore throat and gingivitis symptoms.
The leaves are also edible, and where one wants to treat heavy menstrual bleeding, internal bleeding, and nosebleeds, they come in handy. They contain vincamine, an alkaloid which increases blood flow. Studies show that this alkaloid can help in chemotherapy treatments.
The roots, too, are also useful and can work in reducing blood pressure.
Craft-lovers will love this last bit. This plant has a sturdy branched stalk which works excellent in basket-weaving. So if you come across it and want to work on some weaving, you can heap the plants in a pile and get to it.
Does it have natural enemies?
The good thing is that this plant does have a natural enemy: stem blight. That means that you might not have to deal with the plant at all. Once new stems emerge from the ground, stem blight, which is a fungus, can kill them.
Common periwinkle threats
The seeds of the Vinca minor get released into the environment when the fruits split open. Given the lack of hair or wings on the seeds, it is likely that they fall to the ground upon release. There isn’t much information on seed propagation.
Ants have been shown to distribute this weed over small distances.
Horticultural trade is one of the primary means of dispersing creeping myrtle. People love the groundcover it creates and will, therefore, source for the plant in nurseries. Over time, people buy, borrow, and gift plant parts, which aid in the distribution of this invasive species.
When a plant establishes in an area, the rhizomes can spread over long distances. Where this plant is not under close monitoring, it could push out native species and encroach on other lands.
This invasive species has both economic and environmental effects:
If this species invades a farm, it can lead to a lot of losses. For one, it will push out grasses and other desirable plants in the land. With these plants reducing, the livestock-carrying capacity of the land would reduce. To make matters worse, animals do not feed on the foliage of this plant, as they find it unpalatable. That means that the land would fill with a plant that is not of use to the farmer or the animals.
As such, the farmer would have to eradicate the creeping myrtle, and this would cost money. Not only would the farmer lose money on proceeds from the animals. But they would also incur costs related to removing this invasive species.
This plant can adapt to various climatic conditions. In so doing, it forms mats that push out native species. It is thus a threat to biodiversity and would have adverse effects on the ecological balance of an area.
Common periwinkle management
Suppose you have common periwinkle growing in your land, here are some of the management practices you can use:
When dealing with any weed, you can get the best results by integrating various methods. For one, you need to identify any infestations of the common periwinkle. As you do so, you will map out areas that require control measures. Look at the possibility of the plant spreading to other areas and what control methods would work best. Let us take a look at the methods which you could integrate:
With prevention, it is all about ensuring that outbreaks do not occur in un-infested areas. Suppose you know of an infestation, in or around your land, here is what you can do:
It helps when people have enough information about a problem. Some people may look to this plant as a landscaping material.
Given that you know the problems it can create, you can inform them of its dangers. Gardeners and horticulturists often spread this plant. Thus, educating them on its impact should be a priority. The same goes for your neighbors. If they plant this invasive species, it is only a matter of time before it invades your land.
Disturbances taking place in an area with an infestation can lead to the growth of new sprouts. Thus, if an area holds or previously held root fragments or seeds, avoid it. It helps to have signs as to the same to prevent disturbances by visitors.
Common periwinkle control
These measures come in handy where there is an infestation, and thus, an imminent need to get rid of this species:
This method works for small infestations as well as seedlings. Here, you can pull the seedlings by hand, ensuring that you get most of the roots out. Working with moist soil will give you better results as you will not leave any fragments in the ground.
Once you remove the plants, bag them and deposit them in a landfill. While some people may choose to burn or compost the seedlings, it is not advisable. You would need extreme temperatures for this to be successful. And the plants could end up sprouting once they are in contact with the ground.
Monitoring the site is essential to help you identify and deal with any new sprouts.
Unfortunately, there are no biological agents that you can use to control this plant.
Before using any chemicals on your land, you should think of how you intend to use the land in the future. The use of herbicides will also affect how you use the land at present as well as the health of native species.
Working with the relevant local authority is thus essential. Not only will it give you insight as to what chemicals would be best. But it will also ensure that you use chemicals that are as per the law.
All herbicides come with labels that give you guidelines as to how you should use them. Adhering to these stipulations will keep you and native species safe. Using chemicals on foliage in spring has been proven to be an effective control method.
The best way to deal with common periwinkle would be to uproot or cut the plants. Give them a while for new sprouts to emerge and use chemicals on the growths. Some follow-up treatments will be necessary to achieve the eradication of this species.
You can leave the chemically-treated plants on the ground where they can compost. Note that the mode of disposal will depend on your region. Thus, be sure to check with the relevant local authority on this.
Your best bet when dealing with the common periwinkle is to act fast when you identify an infestation. In this way, you can keep it from spreading, and you can thus incur fewer costs in controlling this species. Integrating chemical and mechanical methods will give you the best results. Also, integration works faster and reduces the cost incurred over time.