Lesser Periwinkle, Vinca minor

Lesser Periwinkle also known as Dwarf Periwinkle, Common Periwinkle, Small Periwinkle, Myrtle, Creeping Myrtle and Flower of Death. Where did it get that name from…Flower of Death? It is poisonous but so too are many other plants.  It is native to central and southern France but is also seen in Britain where it is often grown in gardens as ground cover, being particularly useful in quite shady places where many plants will not grow. You sometimes find it in the countryside in Britain but that is the result of someone dumping some garden waste at the side of the road and it getting established.
When it is growing in the wild it prefers shady places like hedgerows and woodlands and it flowers early in the year, from March onwards. The flowers are bright blue with a hint of purple/lilac colour. It is in the same family as the Gentians which of course it looks quite similar to.  It is a low creeping plant, known as a subshrub, so it is like a very low growing bush, it spreads quite well and can grow up slightly higher if it can use other taller plants to scramble over.
Once established it is difficult to get rid of as it has underground creeping rhizomes, like quite a few other woodland plants. Also its shiny leaves means that treatment with weed killer will often not work as it runs off the leaf before it is absorbed. The best way to deal with it is to break the stems and leaves….give it a good bashing and then apply the weed killer.
The scientific name is Vinca minor, there is another Periwinkle which is the Greater Periwinkle ( Vinca major) and this is very similar except that the leaves are bigger and the flowers are bigger. The best way to tell them apart is that the leaves of the greater Periwinkle have tiny hairs along the margins whereas the Lesser Periwinkle is hairless. In both plants the leaves remain present throughout the winter.
It is poisonous but has been used for various medical treatments. Also the mature stems have been used in basket work.
Greater Periwinkle is also a garden escape in GB but was first recorded in the wild as far back as 1650 in Middlesex,  so it’s almost ‘one of us’

Click to see other flowers from the Wye valley woodlands

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