What is in common?

Plant names can really drive someone nuts. What do the names Myrtle, Periwinkle, Vinca, and Madagascar Periwinkle all have in common? The answer is that they are all common names of plants. Can you tell the difference between each of these plants? You might think they are all different plants or you might think they are all the same plant. So how do you tell? Welcome to the world of a green industry professional!

OH, The Confusion!

Some of the plants listed above are, in fact, the same plant. However, others are completely different or have multiple meanings. Below is an explanation of each of the plant names.

Generally in this area Myrtle, Periwinkle, and Vinca are the same plant: Vinca minor or Vinca major, a purple flowered groundcover.

periwinkle, myrtle, vinca, Vinca minor, plant names

These are close-up shots of the Vinca minor (Common Periwinkle, Myrtle, Vinca) flower.

Myrtle can also be used to describe southern trees/shrubs like the Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) or Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera).

Crape Myrtle & Wax Myrtle, plant names

Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) on the left and Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) on the right.

Vinca can be used to describe an annual flower called Madasgascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus).

Catharanthus roseus, plant names

Catharanthus roseus does have some similarities to Vinca minor since it is in the same family, Apocynaceae.


Confused yet? I was and at times I still get a little confused by all of these names.

As you can tell, common names can be extremely confusing. They tend to change from state to state, town to town, and even sometimes from one neighbor to another.

Botanical Solution

There is, however, an easier way to describe plants to your local nursery and landscape professional if you want a specific type of plant. Using botanical names (the names I used in parenthesis above) alleviates that confusion.

A botanical name could also be referred to as the scientific name, latin name, or the binomial nomenclature of the plant (that was for all my plant geeks out there!). Whatever you call it, the plant name primarily consists of a genus and species. Other things that can throw you for a loop are hybrids, subspecies, cultivars, and varieties. With so many plants out there, it’s impossible know all of them so keep it simple. The next time you go to the nursery or your landscape professional with a specific plant in mind, it will help them immensely if you know the genus (and species in the case of Vinca). You may even impress your green industry professional! … BUT be aware that you might get one of us rambling on passionately about plants more than you anticipated!

How do I find the botanical names?

Usually, if you know a common name, the botanical name can easily be found online. Google pulls up various links when any of these are typed into your search bar. You may have to do some digging. I also like to use the image search quite a bit. A great resource for information I tend to use more often than not is The Missouri Botanical Gardens website because they have such a great database.

Plant Names, Vinca, Missouri Botanical Gardens

Disclaimer: Some common names may not be as easily found. When this happens, it is best to try to take or find a photo of the plant. A sample of twig with leaves, flower, and/or fruit always helps too!

The Finale! 

Now, you know at least some of the reason why some of us green industry professionals are a little crazy. Crazy might be a strong word. We are passionate! We like plants. We want you to enjoy them too and, if we can, we want to find the plants you want. If all else fails, just ask. We will do our best to figure it out one way or another!