Phlox maculata (Wild Sweet William)

Plant Info
Also known as: Spotted Phlox, Meadow Phlox, Speckled Phlox
Family:Polemoniaceae (Phlox)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:sun; moist soil; wet meadows, prairies, ditches
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: none MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
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: 5-petals Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] A cylindrical, branched cluster to 12 inches long at the top of the stem, plus smaller clusters arising from the upper leaf axils. Flowers are about ¾ inch across, 5 pale pink to pinkish purple petals fused at the base forming a long slender tube. Inside the tube are yellow-tipped stamens, a few of which barely poke out of the tube. At the base of the tube is a slender, usually hairless calyx about ¼ inch long, with 5 narrow lobes.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves and stem] Leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, lance-linear to narrowly oblong or egg-shaped, toothless, hairless, with a long taper to a pointed or blunt tip, rounded to nearly heart-shaped at the base, and stalkless. The stem is erect, unbranched except in the flowers, hairless or minutely hairy, and typically spotted red.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is an oval capsule about 1/3 inch long, longer than the calyx tube.


According to the DNR, Wild Sweet William was probably rather common in pre-settlement times, but the conversion of wet/mesic prairie in southeast Minnesota to agriculture has destroyed or degraded most of its habitat. Further risk of decline comes from invasive species such as Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), which is rapidly taking over roadsides and invading natural areas across the southern counties. Only 12 populations of Wild Sweet William are known to still exist; it was designated a Special Concern species in 2013. There are 2 subspecies noted in several references, though they are not currently recognized in Minnesota: subsp. maculata, which has the cylindrical flower cluster described above, and subsp. pyramidalis, which has (you guessed it) a more pyramidal shaped cluster. Wild Sweet William flowers resemble other Phlox species, notably Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa), which is a smaller, hairier, dry prairie plant, and Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), which is a larger plant with distinct venation on the leaves. The red-spotted stem of Wild Sweet William further distinguishes it from other species.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Mower County.


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

Posted by: Nancy - Near Cherry Grove, MN
on: 2015-06-07 16:06:17

Found in a few ditches along the gravel roads with Golden Alexanders, the last of the Wild Blue phlox, and wild ( feral!) Parsnip.

Posted by: Kenny h - East of rose creek on shooting star trail
on: 2017-06-14 15:53:28

Lots of them blooming now, also the late downy phlox is still blooming...making a good comparison...I noticed some color variation...most beautiful phlox.

Posted by: Mike - Dakota County
on: 2017-12-21 10:16:41

Found two individuals in a wet sedge meadow. One growing solitary under a Salix, another was found on the boardwalk that bisects the wetland, clearly the victim of someone who didn't understand how few individuals still exist.

Posted by: Jacob E - Farmington
on: 2021-07-18 21:08:30

I found this on part of the Vermillion WMA on Annette Avenue near the wma parking lot in early June a few years ago. A ha duck of plants growing in the ditch near restored prairie. Turks Cap Lilies are also growing there.

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