Polygala senega (Seneca Snakeroot)

Plant Info
Also known as: Mountain Flax, Rattlesnake Snakeroot
Family:Polygalaceae (Milkwort)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; sandy or rocky soil, open woods, prairies, stream banks
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:10 to 18 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

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Tapering spikes to 2 inches long of 1/8 inch, white flowers tinged with green. Individual flowers are flanked bi-laterally by round winged sepals with three other sepals (one tipped with minute fringes) enclosing the flower column. The flowers drop off as soon as seed begins to develop. Flowers bloom from the bottom of the spike up.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are slender, about 3/8 inch wide and 1 to 2 inches long, toothless, mostly hairless, tapering to a pointed at the tip, with little or no leaf stem, alternately attached. A plant typically has a multiple, unbranched stems emerging from the root system, in a clump. Stems may be green or purplish, and hairy to varying degrees, especially in the upper part of the stem.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a round, slightly flattened capsule.


This milkwort species is generally found SW of a line from Kittson county in the NW, running down through the Metro to Houston county in the SE. It frequents open grasslands and woodland openings. The flower spike is similar to the related Whorled Milkweed (P. verticillata) but the latter has whorled leaves and usually branches frequently.

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More photos

Photos taken at Rice Creek Trail Regional Park, Shoreview, MN May and July 2009


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

Posted by: Kent - Twin Cities
on: 2011-06-12 08:37:12

Anybody out there know where to find a stand of Seneca Snakeroot? I would like to establish it in my prairie garden. The seed is hard to find commercially and I have had little luck in growing it from purchased seed. I would like to see it in the wild and find a seed collection site.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2011-06-12 15:26:04

While we do encourage people to go out and explore, I just want to mention that before collecting any seed from any land that is not your own, get permission from the landowner. Collecting anything from public land is not generally permitted, though.

Posted by: Susan Premo - Burnsville
on: 2020-06-01 16:37:53

Finally, I figured it out! Thank goodness for your site. We were walking and spied this and small white lady slippers! Quite a few beauties, also of note, for me at least, were yellow star grass. Hoary puccoon. I think I am correct it's hoary, I did look it up because I thought it may be hairy, but pretty sure I'm correct. Also, we were in Dakota County, Murphy Hanrahan , we found one showy orchis, it was pretty surrounded by all the buckthorn you can imagine! Horrible, young & old bushes.

Posted by: HvHughes
on: 2020-06-19 15:39:35

Photographed it on the side of a rural farm road in Marshall County on June 18, 2020

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