Polygala polygama (Racemed Milkwort)
|Also known as:||Purple Milkwort|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; dry sandy soil, prairies, open meadows, open woods|
|Bloom season:||June - August|
|Plant height:||6 to 12 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Purple/pink to nearly white flowers are spaced out on a spike-like raceme 1 to 3 inches long at the top of the stem. Flowers are ¼ to 3/8 inch across with 2 wing-like sepals flanking 2 petals rolled into a column in the center, with a fringed crest.
Leaves and stem:
Leaves are to 1 inch long and 1/6 inch wide, toothless, hairless, usually wider at the tip end, tapering to a narrow or blunt point at the tip with no leaf stem. There are usually multiple, unbranched stems emerging from a sturdy taproot. The stems may be erect but often fan out from the center of the clump, each stem leaning over or sprawling along the ground with the tip rising up (decumbent).
This species also has small underground flowers on short underground stems that produce seed asexually (cleistogamous), though a few upper flowers can do this as well.
This milkwort species is generally found from the Metro and SE border counties to Houston County, though scattered populations have been located as far north as Beltrami and St. Louis counties. When open, the flowers are near miniatures of the more showy and larger Fringed Milkwort (Polygala paucifolia) though flower components are proportionally different and the tip fringe is lighter, more open and splayed out. There are multiple varieties of P. polygama, though they are not universally accepted. In Minnesota, var. obtusata is recognized as present in the state; it is considered a northern variety with denser racemes than southern populations.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken at Wild River State Park, Chisago County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Boot Lake SNA, Anoka County and a private spruce nursery in SE Isanti County
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?