Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Native to Europe and northern Africa, Blue Periwinkle (Vinca major), is an herbaceous perennial with ground-creeping stems and milky sap.
  • It is a serious environmental weed of the temperate regions of southern Australia.
  • It can grow in a wide range of habitats but prefers moist fertile soils in well shaded sites.
  • It is poisonous to stock if eaten.
  • It is difficult to control because of its resilient root system that effectively propagates new plants.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Blue Periwinkle (Vinca major) is a trailing herbaceous perennial ground cover with tough stems rooting at nodes (joints in the stem where the leaves join). The slender stems have milky sap. There two main growth forms within the plant. There is a vegetative and ground-creeping form with stems to 2-4 metres long in a season rooting at the nodes (stem joints) when they come in to contact with the ground; and the second form produces short and upright flowering stems to 500 mm high (Blood 2003). The root system is hardy and fibrous, forming a mat 15–30 cm deep in the soil. The main growing point of the plants is the crown, but runners and nodes root forming new growing points or crowns. The leaves thick to soft-leathery, broad-ovate (egg-shaped with the widest part near the base) to elliptic (oval) in outline, 15 to 90 mm long by 15 to 50 mm wide, with a pointed tip (apex), with a base rounded to blunt, with margins entire (smooth with no teeth or lobes) and small fine hairs. Leaves are arranged in pairs along the stems with successive pairs borne at right angles to each other. The upper leaf surface is glossy green or sometimes variegated yellow and green and hairless except for short fine hairs along the margins. The lower leaf surface is paler. The leaf stalk is 5 to 15 mm long and has two small finger-like glands on upper surface.

The flowers are blue or lilac-blue, sometimes white in colour, solitary and borne on a stalk 15 to 33 mm long arising from the junction of the leaf stalk and the stem. The flowers have five petals which are fused into a short tubular shape 13 to 18 mm long with five spreading lobes each measuring 13 to 25 mm long. A green calyx (collective term for sepals on the out part of flower) with 5 green lobes surround the base of the joined petals. Each calyx lobe is 9 to 17 mm long. Flowers mainly in May to December, but can flower year round in favourable conditions (CRC 2008).

The fruits  Blue Periwinkle produces rarely set viable seed in Australia (Forster 1996; Blood 2003; Thorp & Wilson 2008). Fruits when produced are finger-like pods and are produced in pairs. Each pod is 20 to 50 mm long by about 5 mm wide. When mature fruits split and release 1 to 4 hairless seeds that are 7 to 8 mm long.  seeds 1–4 per follicle.

Recognition: This species can normally be recognised by the combination of the following characters; forms mats of evergreen leathery leaves and mats of stems to 500 mm high that have milky sap when broken; leaves glossy green above are arranged opposite each other in pairs along the stem; flowers from May to December with single flower on individual stalks; flowers blue or lilac-blue, sometimes white in colour; rarely produces fruit or viable seed.

For further information and assistance with identification of Blue Periwinkle, contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

Lilic-blue, blue, or white

Growth form (weed type/habit)

Vine, Herb

Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Blue Periwinkle is found primarily in damp and seasonally moist sites and it is often recorded in riparian habitats. It can grow in a wide range of natural habitats from dry coastal vegetation, heathland and grasslands to dry and wet sclerophyll forest and warm temperate rainforest. It is also recorded in disturbed natural habitats as well as abandoned gardens, roadsides, cemeteries and along railway lines (Muyt 2001; Blood 2003; Western Australian Herbarium 2008). Extensive infestations have generally been recorded in regions receiving more than 600 mm annual rainfall. In drier areas it occurs along watercourses and drainage ditches and there are isolated records associated with plantings such as oldor existing gardens (CRC 2008)

It grows in most soil types but prefers moist fertile soils, in well shaded sites. However, it can tolerate full sunlight as long as there is plenty of soil moisture (Blood 2003; Thorp & Wilson 2008; Sustainable Gardening Australia undated). It is moderately tolerant of drought and salinity. Blue Periwinkle will tolerate moderate frost but temperatures below -10° C are lethal to the plant. Blue Periwinkle regenerates well after low to moderate intensity fires but may be killed by fires of high intensity (Blood 2003).


Are there similar species?

Blue Periwinkle (Vinca major) may be confused with the Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor). Lesser Periwinkle has smaller flowers that are white, surrounded at the base by a hairless calyx (outer whorl of the flower) that measures 3 to 4 mm long. Blue Periwinkle has a calyx 0.9-1.7 cm long with marginal hairs (Thorp & Wilson 2008).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Blue Periwinkle (Vinca major) is mainly an environmental weed in temperate southern Australia.

Agriculture: Blue Periwinkle is a potential agricultural weed because it is poisonous to sheep, cattle and horses if eaten (Sustainable Gardening Australia undated). Anisworth (2004) did not consider Blue Periwinkle a problem in areas where sheep or cattle regularly grazed but observed that it is a common weed in horse paddocks. Although the leaves of Blue Periwinkle contain toxins, it was not a frequent cause of poisoning (Ainsworth 2004).

Native ecosystems: Blue Periwinkle is a serious environmental weed in the temperate higher rainfall regions of southern Australia. It has escaped from cultivation and is invading native vegetation where it forms a dense mats covering and excluding other plants. It competes with native plants for moisture, light, nutrients. Its growth is particularly vigorous in riparian and moist habitats (CRC 2008).

In Victoria it is regarded as one of the top eight weeds of concern to public land managers (Williamson 1991 in Twyford & Baxter 1999). Blue Periwinkle is capable of forming a dense ground cover that suppresses native species and prevents tree and shrub regeneration (Thorp & Wilson 2008). Blue Periwinkle has also invaded temperate rainforest and identified as a threat to endangered and vulnerable plant species. A dense canopy of periwinkle can also alter fauna habit (CRC 2008). It has become a problem in various ecosystems, found primarily in damp and seasonally moist sites in forest, woodlands and heathlands, as well as along waterways and drainage lines (Muyt 2001). Blue periwinkle invades dry coastal vegetation, heathland and healthy woodland, lowland grassland and grassy woodland, dry sclerophyll forest and woodland, damp sclerophyll forest, riparian vegetation, and warm temperate rainforest (Carr et al 1992).

Urban areas: Known as a weed in neglected and abandoned areas where its spreads vegetatively.

How does it spread?

A frequently cultivated garden ornamental that has become widely naturalised along roadsides and other disturbed sites particularly in moist riparian situations. Locally, Blue Periwinkle is primarily spread by vegetative growth with stems rooting at nodes. Fertile seeds are rarely produced in Australia. Long distance dispersal and establishment of new infestations occurs via stem fragments and crowns (junction between stem and roots) in the disposal of garden waste and being transported in contaminated soil or by water (Blood 2003; DPI NSW 2019; Thorp & Wilson 2008).

What is its history in Australia?

There are early herbarium records for Blue Periwinkle from Sale Cemetery, Victoria in 1882, Port Jackson, New South Wales in 1902, and South Australia in 1903 (AVH 2020), Hobart, Tasmania in 1925, Manjimup, Western Australia, in 1947 and the Darling Downs, Queensland in 1953 (National Herbarium of New South Wales 2008; National Herbarium of Victoria 2008; Queensland Herbarium 2008).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Blue Periwinkle (Vinca major) control is difficult because of its very tough root system.

Chemical control: Blue Periwinkle is susceptible to herbicides and foliar spraying of actively growing plants using systemic, non-residual herbicide with a sufactant can be effective in larger infestations where Blue Periwinkle forming a dense groundcover. The use of surfactants (wetting agents that lower the surface tension of a liquid, allowing easier spreading) in the spray also improves the herbicide effectiveness (Sustainable Gardening Australia undated). Plants can be slashed or mown and the regrowth treated with appropriate herbicides (Sustainable Gardening Australia undated). Follow up spot spraying of stem and root growth and seedling regeneration is best undertaken between 6 to 12 months after initial treatment (Twyford & Baxter 1999).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au.

NOTE: Training is normally a requirement in most States and Territories for all or some of the methods.

Non-Chemical control: Small infestations of Blue Periwinkle up to a few metres across can be dealt with by hand pulling,  grubbing or being dug out when the soil is moist. Care should be taken to remove the crown and all stems and roots to minimise regeneration. Material should also be disposed of carefully to prevent any spreading from crown or stem fragments (Harley undated). Larger patches should be removed in stages from the edges, folding the runners inwards towards the weed as work progresses. Cleared areas where the soil has been disturbed will be prone to invasion by Blue Periwinkle regrowth or other weeds CRC 2008). Another useful technique for small infestations is solarisation where plants are covered with plastic sheeting for up to 6 months, then regrowth treated with appropriate herbicides (Sustainable Gardening Australia undated).

Biological control: No biological control options are available for Blue Periwinkle.

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Periwinkle can grow at any time of year, while soil temperature and moisture conditions are favourable. If the foliage is burnt off by frost or drought, it can readily recover through re-sprouting.Flowers have been recorded throughout the year, but mainly in spring and summer. Flowers mainly from May to December but can flower appear throughout the year, rarely with fruits produced (Forster 1996) and  the main method of reproduction appears to be vegetative growth as Blue Periwinkle rarely sets viable seed Australia (Blood 2003). Seed germination has been observed in autumn and spring.


Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Blue Periwinkle is a weed of temperate regions of southern Australia (Twyford & Baxter 1999). In Western Australia is has naturalised from Perth to Albany. In south-eastern Australia it extends from Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, east to Victoria and Tasmania, north through New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and the south-east corner of Queensland (AVH 2008; Western Australian Herbarium 2008).

Where does it originate?

Blue Periwinkle is a native of central and southern Europe and northern Africa (the Mediterranean region) (Thorp & Wilson 2008).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Vinca major

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

Periwinkle, Vinca, Sorcerer's Violet, Big Leaf Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Blue Buttons.

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