Polygala cruciata (Cross-leaved Milkwort)

Plant Info
Also known as: Drumheads, Marsh Milkwort
Family:Polygalaceae (Milkwort)
Life cycle:annual
  • State Endangered
Habitat:part shade, sun; wet meadows, sandy swamps and shores, acidic soil
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:4 to 10 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Flowers arise in dense, cylindrical spike-like racemes at the top of the plant and the tips of branching stems. Flowers are flanked by a pair of triangular petal-like sepals, each up to ¼ inch (4 to 6 mm) long, nearly as wide, sharply pointed at the tip. Three small petals are fused into a short column in the center, fringed with short, finger-like lobes at the tip. Color ranges from greenish-white to deep pink. Flower clusters are about ½ to ¾ inch (to 2 cm) in diameter and can elongate up to about 2 inches during the growing season, with flowers blooming at the tip and fruit forming below.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are typically whorled in groups of 4, sometimes 3, up to 1½ inches (1 to 4 cm) long, linear to narrowly elliptic or spatula-shaped, widest at or above the middle, blunt to pointed at the tip, toothless, hairless, and stalkless or nearly so. Stems are square or slightly winged, hairless, stiff and branched, the branches often in pairs at a leaf node.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of mature fruit] Fruit is a nearly round, 2-seeded capsule up to 2.5 mm long on a stalk-like base. Seeds are oval-elliptic, 1.1 to 1.5 mm long, blackish-brown at maturity, short-hairy, with a 2-lobed appendage slightly shorter than the seed.


Minnesota populations of Cross-leaved Milkwort are primarily restricted to sedge meadows of the Anoka Sandplain. It is a tiny thing, often hidden by the surrounding grass-like plants and easily stepped on if you aren't paying attention. According to the DNR, it was listed as an Endangered Species in 1984 due to loss of habitat to development and encroaching non-native invasive species threatening the dwindling populations that remain. Vaguely similar is Blood Milkwort (Polygala sanguinea), with which it often grows; it has alternate leaves and, after blooming, the flower sepals become erect and overlapping like fish scales.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Sharon - Blaine
on: 2020-09-03 13:24:37

These are blooming in abundance at Blaine Preserve SNA.

Posted by: Timothy Johnson - Helen Allison Savanna SNA - East Bethel
on: 2021-01-01 11:34:04

Found some hiding in the sedges in a wet low spot.

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