Vinca: The Trouble with Common Names

Latin scientific names can be challenging to pronounce but are tremendously important. We can communicate without ambiguity because each plant has only one scientific name. In contrast, a plant may have more than one common name, and common names may vary by region. Although easier to pronounce, using common names can result in a great deal of confusion and even frustration.

Let’s look at an example. If I were to speak about vinca, there are at least three plants to which I may be referring. Two of the plants are non-native invasive vines in the genus Vinca. The third is an annual bedding plant in the genus Catharanthus.

Vinca major.

Vinca major.
Credit: Kim Starr, Starr Environmental,

Scientific Name Vinca major
Plant Type Non-native invasive vine/vining groundcover
Common Names Big Leaf Periwinkle
Blue Buttons
Blue Periwinkle
Greater Periwinkle
Vinca minor.

Vinca minor.
Credit: Greene Storm, St. John’s University,

Scientific Name Vinca minor
Plant Type Non-native invasive vine/vining groundcover
Common Names Bowles Periwinkle
Dwarf Periwinkle
Lesser Periwinkle
Running Myrtle
Catharanthus roseus.

Catharanthus roseus.
Terasa M. Lott, ©2023, Clemson Extension.

Scientific Name Catharanthus roseus
Plant Type Annual bedding plant
Common Names Annual Vinca
Madagascar Periwinkle
Rose Periwinkle
Running Myrtle

Since Vinca major and Vinca minor are considered non-native invasive species in South Carolina, it is not advisable to plant them. A previous blog authored by retired Extension Agent Laura Lee Rose explains why we should be concerned about invasive plants. One moral of the story is to use scientific names whenever possible. If annual vinca is your go-to plant to stand up to SC summers, you needn’t be concerned about it being invasive. Annual vinca is known to self-seed, so you may end up with “volunteers” next season.

For more information, see HGIC 1158, Annual Vinca.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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