Polygala cruciata (Cross-leaved Milkwort)

Plant Info
Also known as: Drumheads
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 spikes that elongate throughout the growing season. Individual flowers appear nearly rectangular in shape from two sharply pointed, triangular, bract-like sepals that flank two sides of the tiny central flower column; these are stacked upon one another as new flowers are added on top. Color can be from white/greenish-white to hot pink and the spike can be an inch wide and several inches tall. A plant usually has multiple clusters at the end of branching stems.

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

[photo of leaves] The toothless, hairless leaves are broadly elongated, bluntly narrowing to a tiny point, up to 1½ inches long and typically set in whorls of four directly below flower clusters - appearing to be a cross. Stems are square or slightly winged, hairless, stiff and profusely branched, often being held erect by adjoining grasses, sedges and other forbs as the growing season progresses.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is an oblong 2-seeded capsule.


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 easy to step 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.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk, taken in Anoka County, MN


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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