Periwinkle: Mistakes From the Past

By Nan Brown, April 2023

Unbelievable infestations of periwinkle have arisen from some old pioneer cemeteries and homesteads where it was planted probably by the first settlers. Now, after one hundred years or longer, the forests for acres around host nothing more than periwinkle.

photo of flat tombstone surrounded by periwinkle

An example for those in the Bruce County area is in Southampton where the spread from the old pioneer cemetery on the upper bank of the Saugeen River has taken over huge swathes of forest undergrowth. I walk through and feel overwhelmed and defeated from such mistakes of the past. 

One would think we could learn and prevent invasions such as this in the future. But no, garden centres are still selling periwinkle in nurseries in Ontario.

Here are some of my pictures I took of these areas in Southampton, Bruce County.  I like the last three pictures especially.  The last one shows one of the old bases of a tombstone with a view of the beautiful Saugeen river down below the cliff at this site very close to where it empties into Lake Huron. Around the base are not only periwinkle but also Lily of the Valley which also runs rampant in this area. The second last picture shows a sea of periwinkle surrounding the sole surviving native wildflower, a broad-leaved goldenrod. The third last photo shows the sea of dark green periwinkle from white birch to beech and maple sealing the forest floor in all directions.  One can’t see the vastness of this invasion from these photos however trust me it goes on for metres and metres deep into the forest and down the bank towards the river. Someday I will measure the extent it covers I am sure.

I was shocked when I first came across this area. For me, it exemplifies the need to educate people, especially gardeners, that the plants we choose now can have ramifications for years to come. Periwinkle, goutweed, Norway maple and so many other invasives should not be allowed anywhere near natural areas. If garden centres did what was right for the environment and stopped selling them, then maybe their followers, the gardeners, would listen.