Polygala verticillata (Whorled Milkwort)
|Also known as:|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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:
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.
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.
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Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Otter Tail County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?