Life in Christian County, Kentucky... More About Trees and Plants...
My travels today took me by this old cemetery, and I stopped to peek inside it. I wasn't too surprised to see the entire grounds covered with periwinkle. Many old Kentucky cemeteries are full of it. I have heard and even read on the internet that an isolated patch of periwinkle is often a sign of an old, unmarked gravesite.
The periwinkle (vinca minor) is a native of Europe that was brought to America several hundred years ago. When the settlers planted it in their cemeteries, they were glad to have a low-growing, spring-blooming, evergreen ground cover that choked out grass and weeds. They didn't have power mowers to cut the cemetery grass, you know.
Today, the plant is considered an invasive species because of much evidence that it spreads aggressively and chokes out the native plantlife. It 's a conqueror, not a peaceful co-exister. I saw an extreme example of this at the Carl Cemetery in north-eastern Christian County. The old part of the cemetery dates back to Civil War times or earlier*, and where it adjoins the woods, the periwinkle grows through the fence and out into the woods as far as the eye can see. It is an incredible thing to see such a dense stand of periwinkle, but it's sad to think of the native plants that have perished as periwinkle stole their growing spots.
Periwinkle is an attractive plant with its periwinkle-blue, 5-petaled blossoms in the spring and its evergreen foliage. It's still sold in plant catalogs (sometimes called creeping myrtle), and I bought some when we moved here. I was looking for a ground cover to put in some beds and I didn't realize that it was of dubious character.
My periwinkle hasn't made any threats of escaping its beds yet. In fact, if I don't rake the maple leaves off it in the fall, the deprivation of sunlight gives it a serious setback. I've never understood how periwinkle has invaded the woods so successfully at the Carl Cemetery where there must be a heavy leaf-fall every year, but then, it's had around 150 years to establish itself.
*I think the oldest grave I saw in the Carl Cemetery was from the 1840's, but it has been several years since I was over there and my memory may well be deceiving me.
Update: See also Periwinkle in the Landscape.