You know those moments where you think you know something–until suddenly you realize you don’t? Well this happened to me recently with periwinkle. I’ve seen this shrubby, large-flowered vine my entire life, but it wasn’t until I went to key it out that I realized I didn’t know its name. And when I finally came to periwinkle I couldn’t have been more surprised. This familiar plant is periwinkle? The periwinkle of literature, of blues and eyes and dresses? I always thought it would be some delicate British daisy; instead, it’s this coarse and common invasive!
The bigleaf periwinkle of real life is Vinca major, a dark-leaved vine with a milky, sticky sap. This invasive ground cover escaped from garden plantings and now is creeping across the U.S. In California you can see it in coastal areas, foothill woodlands, the Central Valley, and even in the desert. It forms dense mats, crowding out natives, and can resprout from bits of broken stem or root–a particular problem because it likes to grow on stream banks, where it regularly gets washed away in high water, taking root wherever the broken piece lands.