Polygala verticillata (Whorled Milkwort)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Polygalaceae (Milkwort)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:part shade, sun; fields, prairies, open woods
Bloom season:July - October
Plant height:6 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: UPL NCNE: UPL
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: indistinct Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flower cluster] Tapering spikes to ¾ inch long of small, white/greenish/pale pink flowers, each about 1/8 inch across and nearly stalkless. A flower is flanked bi-laterally by round winged sepals with three other sepals (one tipped with minute fringes) enclosing the central yellow flower column. Pink-tipped stamens surround the column. The flowers do not open widely giving the appearance of a bud or tiny bulblet. Flowers bloom from the bottom of the spike up. One plant may have several spikes, each at the end of branching stems.

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

[photo of leaves] There are few lower leaves with most of the mature ones in whorls of 4 or 5 on the mid to upper stem and flowering branches, the uppermost leaves reduced to bracts. The linear, toothless, hairless, pointed leaves are not much over 1 inch long, no more than 3/8 inch wide, and stalkless. Stems are hairless, angled, branched - often oppositely - and while erect, may be supported by surrounding vegetation.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is a slightly flattened, oval capsule containing small black seeds


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 Seneca Snakeroot (P. senega) but the latter has alternate leaves and is typically unbranched. It is also very similar to White Milkwort (Polygala alba), which is not present in MN but is just to our west and south on the Great Plains, has more pure white flowers with green centers in clusters up to 3 inches long, and alternate leaves. There are 3 recognized varieties of P. verticillata, distinguished by the length of the flower stalk and whether leaves are whorled all the way up the stem (excluding the flower clusters). P. vercillata var. isocycla, with nearly stalkless flowers (stalks .3mm or less) with whorls all along the stem is present in Minnesota.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Wild Ones Twin Cities Chapter

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Landscape Alternatives - Distinctive Native Plants since 1986!
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds

More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Otter Tail County.


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

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.