Polygala polygama (Racemed Milkwort)

Plant Info
Also known as: Purple Milkwort
Family:Polygalaceae (Milkwort)
Life cycle:biennial
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] 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: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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).

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

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.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Native Plant Society

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Spangle Creek Labs - Native orchids, lab propagated
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds

More photos

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?

Posted by: Linda - Pin Oak S & N area
on: 2015-06-21 14:50:25

Found on the open hillsides/dry prairie area at Pin Oak SNA south of Chatfield, MN

Posted by: Karen - Hastings
on: 2015-06-23 12:16:34

In bloom at the Hastings Sand Coulee SNA 6-23-15. Also occurs at Grey Cloud Dunes SNA.

Posted by: Jason Osowski - Zimmerman, MN
on: 2020-07-16 16:59:16

Present at Fremont WMA Southside prairie remnant.

Posted by: Brett W - Sherburne county
on: 2022-06-19 18:46:24

Surprised to see this popping up in the scraped topsoil part from the removal of an old farms dump site. First time recording this plant in the SE Unit!

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.