"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Vinca Major, or Periwinkle

From “Periwinkle” in Gather Ye Wild Things: A Forager’s Year by Susan Tyler Hitchcock:

Periwinkle is more than just a pretty ground cover. It has an interesting past and a promising future. Legends about periwinkle date back further than the facts we have about it, portraying a plant with influence over the devil. Herbalists proclaimed its powers. Apuleius, Roman author from the second century A.D., described periwinkle’s powers thus: ‘This wort is of good advantage for many purposes, that is to say, first against devil sickness and demoniacal possessions and against snakes and wild beasts and against poisons and for various wishes and for envy and for terror and that thou mayst have grace, and if thou hast the wort with thee thou shalt be prosperous and ever acceptable….’ Modern advertising could not give the plant a better promotion.

“And modern science has discovered more reasons to revere the periwinkle plant. Certain components of the Madagascar species, crimson-flowered
Vinca rosea, inhibit cell growth. Doctors now include in cancer chemotherapy treatments steady doses of vinblastine sulfate or vincristine sulfate, two alkaloids extracted from the tropical periwinkle plant. While the vinca alkaloids sometimes produce unpleasant side effects, they effectively slow down tumorous cell reproduction. Periwinkle is no home cure for cancer, but these vinca extracts are among the most promising treatments for cancer today.

“The periwinkle that grows, wild or cultivated, around the United States and Canada is a smaller and less potent relative of the Madagascar breed. Its local appearance only reminds us of the worldwide search for cancer treatments deriving from the plant world. Vinca minor covers wooded corners, orchard spots, and landscaped yards with its shiny evergreen leaves. Its appearance in the wild often means the land was earlier inhabited. Early blue flowers spin open in the spring. Hybrids bloom pink or white or purple. Closely related, Vinca major stands higher, grows larger leaves and flowers, and doesn’t take so kindly to the wild. You will never discover a Madagascar periwinkle growing in the United States or Canada, outside a greenhouse. But the periwinkles you will find here have their own practical uses.”

From “Transplanting” in Living Above the Frost Line: New and Selected Poems by Nancy Simpson:

At an abandoned house site, edge of the woods,
lies a patch of periwinkle ground cover:
glossy green leaves, violet flowers,
a thick carpet spread across the forest floor.

I’ve come here at times to dig squares
so now periwinkle covers my side yard.
It holds banks of the mountain road near my cabin….

Imagine. All the vinca I will ever need….


The batches of vinca major (or periwinkle) that I photographed for this post were entwined among the hellebores I posted previously (see Early Spring Hellebores (1 of 2) and Early Spring Hellebores (2 of 2)) — mostly in the shade of some elm and oak trees and a few large shrubs. They were also among my first experiments with a neutral density filter, which seems to have helped produce some very rich background greens for the flowers. The blooms varied in color from blue to purple or violet (depending on how much reflected sunlight they caught), and I shifted all the colors slightly in Lightroom so they matched each other as closely as possible. Still, you may see these flowers as more blue or more purple, depending on the level of blue light the screen your viewing them on emits (or restricts).

Vinca’s vines tend to grow close to the ground, somewhat loosely but often rising in small clumps. They don’t so much attach to surfaces as tangle around them, but do not mind climbing up a tree like those between two tree trunks below. You can find them throughout much of the United States (and other countries), usually early in the spring, and often in fields or along roadsides where those variants are most likely vinca minor (with smaller leaves and flowers) and often considered wildflowers.

Thanks for taking a look!