Groundcover = Weed?

I got a phone call this morning from a lady down around Olympia who had come across my wildflowers website. She hadn’t found a plant on the site that she’d found in the backyard of her home and asked if she could send me a JPEG to identify it for her before she took a weed eater to it. I get these requests pretty frequently, but usually by e-mail, so I said “yes” and she sent a file while we were still on the phone.

It only took a glance to know that her mystery plant was the very common garden groundcover, Vinca minor. The common name is periwinkle. It’s a plant I learned as a small child because my dad had it in our garden. It’s native to southern Switzerland and south to the Mediterranean.

Vinca minor
Vinca minor

This afternoon I went for a brisk walk up to Cornwall Park and a loop around the park to get some exercise after sitting at my computer all day. The periwinkle was blooming there at the edge of the woods next to the ball field. That’s where I made the photo above with my iPhone.

Periwinkle is a pretty plant and it really is a good garden groundcover. If you can keep it in your garden. The problem is that it escapes into the woods and can crowd out native and more desirable species when it gets out of control.

Vinca minor at base of Douglas-fir
Vinca minor at base of Douglas-fir

Taking a step back, you can see the mass of Vinca at the base of this Douglas-fir. It’s replaced the fragrant fringecup and piggyback plant that would probably be under the tree in this edge of woodland setting.

Since Cornwall Park has had a fair number of non-native species planted over the years it may not be too serious an issue. But up at the Sehome Arboretum, where we (I’m on the board) want to maintain a more natural environment, Vinca is one of the plants we’d like to eradicate. It may not climb trees like English ivy, but it’s still out of place in our woodlands.

I made both of these photos with my iPhone 4S and then processed them in Camera+. I e-mailed them to my office computer, loaded them into Adobe Lightroom, and then exported them with my signature overlay. I’ll be teaching an iPhone photography class at Whatcom Community College on June 19 & 26. Send me an e-mail if you’d like to be among the first to know when registration opens.

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