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Vinca Major Vs. Vinca Minor - What's the Difference?

Vinca major and Vinca minor, the popular ornamental plants, are known for their dense glossy evergreen foliage and delicate purple-blue flowers. What's the difference between these two species? This Gardenerdy article provides the answer.
Gardenerdy Staff
Vinca Flower
Did You Know?
Not only the species belonging to the genus Vinca but also those belonging to the genus Catharanthus are commonly known as Periwinkles. Moreover, a species of small edible sea snail (Littorina littorea) is also known as common periwinkle or winkle.
Both Vinca major and Vinca minor, the herbaceous evergreen perennials, belong to the family 'Apocynaceae.' These are commonly known as 'vinca' or 'periwinkle.' The scrambling, trailing vines of these plants spread along the ground and form dense masses. So, they are widely used as groundcovers. Their arching stolons root wherever they touch the ground. Thus, they spread easily and rapidly. These non-climbing plants form extensive mats along forest floors. Small eye-catching purple-blue periwinkle flowers can enhance the beauty of a garden.
As the names suggest, all parts, including flowers, of V. major are larger than those of V. minor. The main difference between Vinca major and Vinca minor is that the leaves of V. major are slightly broader, larger, ovate, or heart shaped, while those of V. minor are small, elongated, lance-shaped. This can help identify the species. However, if you observe closely, you will see that the leaves of Vinca major have hairy margins, whereas V. minor leaves have hairless margins. Learn more about the differences between these two species with the help of the following table.
Vinca major vs. Vinca minor
Vinca major Vinca minor
Common Names
Bigleaf periwinkle, large periwinkle, greater periwinkle, or blue periwinkle. Lesser periwinkle, small periwinkle, common periwinkle, dwarf periwinkle, myrtle, or creeping myrtle.
The leaves of V. major are almost circular at the base and lanceolate at the apex. They are broader, somewhat heart-shaped. They can be 3-9 cm long and 2-6 cm broad. These glossy dark green leaves have a leathery texture. An entire and distinctly ciliate margin, and a hairy 1-2 cm long petiole is a characteristic feature of this plant. The glossy dark green leaves of V. minor are 2-4.5 cm long and 1-2.5 cm broad. They come with a leathery texture and an entire margin. They are relatively smaller, elongated, or lance-shaped.
Native Range
V. major are native to the western Mediterranean. V. minor are native to central and southern Europe, southern Russia, and also southwestern Asia.
V. major are 15 to 45 cm, and can grow up to 70 or even 90 cm high. V. minor are 7 to 15 cm, and can grow up to 40 cm.
It is 1.00 to 2.00 feet for V. major. The stems droop to root. For V. minor, it is 0.50 to 1.50 feet. The stems trail.
USDA Zones
For V. major, it is 7 to 9. Towards the north of USDA Zone 7, it is more commonly used as a container plant. In the U.S., it is more wide-spread in the southwest. For V. minor, it is 4 to 8. In the U.S., it is more prevalent in the east and the Midwest.
Bloom Time
Flowers usually continue to bloom intermittently throughout the summer into autumn, in case of V. major. The bloom time may vary according to the location. In V. minor, flowers bloom for one month in spring (April/May). They bloom from early spring to mid summer. They also bloom sporadically from June to September, throughout summer into fall. The bloom time depends on the location.
Bloom Description
In case of V. major, five petaled, light blue-violet flowers grow 2 inches across. They bloom singly at the end of the new shoots. V. minor have 0.5 to 1-inch-wide, five-petaled solitary blue/purple flowers that bloom on upright stalks from the leaf axils.
V. major grow well in full sun (with plenty of water) and in deep shade too. It is better to grow them in partial shade. In cooler climates, V. minor plants in full sun can produce more blooms. Otherwise, exposure to full sun can affect their vigor and can lead to chlorotic foliage. It is better to plant them in partial or full shade. A little morning sun would be enough.
Regular watering is essential during the growing season. Then water can be supplied occasionally. During the first growing season, they need regular supply of water. Thereafter, occasional watering is required.
They prefer humus-rich, moist, and well-drained soil. They grow well in fertile, moist, and well-drained soil. However, both these species can thrive in poor soils and soils of various pH as well.
V. major can tolerate slightly more sun than Vinca minor. It is less tolerant of drought and is less cold hardy. V. minor plants can withstand far more diverse growing conditions as compared to V.major. Well-established plants can tolerate an occasional drought.
Medium Medium
There exist several cultivars of V. major. Some are known for their variegated foliage while some for different colors of their flowers. There exist several cultivars of V. minor too. Some produce white while some produce pink flowers. Some have variegated foliage.
It is better to add some compost or other organic material to the soil at the time of planting. They need a good all-purpose fertilizer when they are actively growing. Adding some compost at the time of planting and a good all-purpose fertilizer during active growth can help them grow and bloom.
Common Problems
V. major plants have no serious insect or disease problems. Potential diseases include root rot, leaf spot, dieback, and blight. Leafhoppers, scale insects, aphids, and nematodes are the potential pests that can affect the health of these plants. In case of V. minor, there are no serious insect or disease problems. Potential diseases include root rot, leaf spot, dieback, and blight. Leafhoppers, scale insects, aphids, and nematodes.
Both Vinca major and Vinca minor should be pruned hard in early spring. Pruning promotes new growth and also helps control the spread of the plants. Both these species can be planted in beds, borders, and containers. Usually, they are used as groundcover. When planted on slopes, they help control erosion. Growth of these plants leads to smothering of weeds. Thus, they also help control weeds in the garden. However, once established, they are difficult to get rid of. As they are fairly deep-rooted, you may have to dig them out.