Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 924 Vinca major

Common Names: large periwinkle, big periwinkle Family: Apocynaceae (dogbane Family)
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big periwinkle
The big periwinkle flowers are one of the "truest blues" in the plant kingdom.


Big periwinkle is a fast growing herbaceous perennial groundcover with evergreen foliage and pretty blue flowers. The arching stems of big periwinkle can reach about 12 in (30 cm) in height, but they soon fall over and spread indefinitely, rooting at the nodes as they cover the ground with shiny dark green foliage. The leaves are in pairs opposite each other along the stems; they are 2-3 in (5-8 cm) long and oval or heart shaped. The flowers are borne singly in the leaf axils on ascending stems. They are blue-violet, funnel shaped with five petals and about 2 in (5 cm) across. Big periwinkle flowers profusely all spring and sporadically throughout the summer. Two subspecies occur in the wild: hirsuta has numerous hairs on the stems and petioles and has lance shaped leaves; major is less pubescent, with leaves as described for the species. The cultivar 'Alba' has white flowers. 'Oxyloba' has deep purple flowers. There are several cultivars selected for their variegated foliage.


All the periwinkles come from Europe, central Asia and northern Africa. Big periwinkle is native to France and Italy, and eastward through the Balkans to northern Asia Minor and the western Caucasus.


Big periwinkle thrives in almost any soil, quickly forming a medium textured evergreen groundcover. Spaced on 18" centers, big periwinkle should provide completed coverage in one year unless the site is very dry. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Sunnier positions result in more flowers and shadier positions result in more ground covering foliage. Use the related Vinca minor for mostly shady positions. Moisture: Big periwinkle tolerates dry soils but grows best in rich, moist soils. In full sun or in very loose soils it will need more frequent watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 9. Use the related Madagascar periwinkle for very hot and dry situations and common periwinkle for colder climates. Propagation: Start new periwinkles from cuttings or by just severing off a piece of shoot that has already rooted.


Use big periwinkle for erosion control on slopes or as a groundcover in large areas - it grows too fast for small spaces. Still, you'll have to pinch it back to keep it in bounds. Big periwinkle does great in the dappled shade under a specimen tree. Big periwinkle grows in a somewhat loose and open habit and is not quite as competitive against weeds as some groundcovers such as liriope or creeping juniper, for example. On the plus side, you can grow spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and snowflakes right under the periwinkle foliage. Big periwinkle is also a great plant for hanging containers or window boxes which allow the glossy foliage to cascade over the sides.

variegated periwinkle
The variegated form of big periwinkle also has bright blue flowers. It is a favorite for use in hanging baskets where its cream-splotched leaves are best appreciated.


Big periwinkle is a excellent groundcover which fills in rapidly and vigorously if provided with moist soil. There are about a dozen species of Vinca; V. major and V. minor are the most commonly cultivated.

Common periwinkle (Vinca minor) is similar but has smaller leaves that are less than 2 in (5 cm) long and smaller flowers that are 1 in (2.5 cm) or less across. It is more cold hardy and more tolerant of shade. The annual bedding plant called Madagascar periwinkle is Catharanthus roseus, although it used to be classified in the genus Vinca.


Apparently all the vincas are poisonous if ingested. Numerous alkaloids, some useful to Mankind, have been isolated from big and common periwinkle.

Steve Christman 4/3/01, updated 3/10/03, 9/22/03, 4/6/08

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Vinca species profiled on Floridata:

Vinca major

( large periwinkle, big periwinkle )

Vinca minor

( common periwinkle, creeping myrtle, lesser periwinkle )

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