Polygala paucifolia (Gaywings)
|Also known as:||Fringed Milkwort, Flowering Wintergreen|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade; moist rich woods, acidic soil, often under pines|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||3 to 7 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Like a cluster of small birds taking to flight, one to four, pink to almost white flowers, each about ¾ inch across, emerge from leaf axils at the stem tip. Two broadly oval petal-like sepals are arranged opposite each other at flower base and flair out likes wings. Two more sepals are neatly wrapped around the center flower column, and a fifth, highly modified with delicate lavender fringes at the crest closes up the underside. The center column angles up and away at roughly 45 degrees from the plane of the wings. This plant also produces greatly reduced, flower structures under ground that produce seeds asexually (called cleistogamous).
Leaves and stem:
The above ground flowering branches are erect and produced from prostrate underground stems. These branches produce small scale-like lower leaves and a whorl of leaves at the branch tip, just below the flowers. The upper leaves are simple, oval to egg-shaped, ½ to ¾ inch wide and 1 to 1½ inches long, tapered at the both the base and into a point at the tip. Leaves also have smooth surfaces and the edges are rough but not toothed.
It was once believed that leaves fed to nursing mothers or dairy cattle would increase milk production. In Minnesota, this species is restricted to moist, rich woodlands in north central and northeastern counties. In some references, Gay-wings is listed as the synomym Polygaloides paucifolia.
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Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk, taken in Chippewa National Forest in NE Hubbard County
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?