MILKWORT FAMILY - Polygalaceae: Fringed Milkwort or Polygala; Flowering Wintergreen; Gay Wings

Polygala paucifolia

Flowers--Purplish rose, rarely white, showy, over 1/2 in. long, from 1 to 4 on short, slender peduncles from among upper leaves. Calyx of 5 unequal sepals, of which 2 are wing-like and highly colored like petals. Corolla irregular, its crest finely fringed; 6 stamens; 1 pistil. Also pale, pouch-like, cleistogamous flowers underground. Stem: Prostrate, 6 to 15 in. long, slender, from creeping rootstock, sending up flowering shoots 4 to 7 in. high. Leaves: Clustered at summit, oblong, or pointed egg-shaped, 1-1/2 in. long or less; those on lower part of shoots scale-like.

Preferred Habitat--Moist, rich woods, pine lands, light soil.

Flowering Season--May-July.

Distribution--Northern Canada, southward and westward to Georgia and Illinois.

Gay companies of these charming, bright little blossoms hidden away in the woods suggest a swarm of tiny mauve butterflies that have settled among the wintergreen leaves. Unlike the common milkwort and many of its kin that grow in clover-like heads, each one of the gay wings has beauty enough to stand alone. Its oddity of structure, its lovely color and enticing fringe, lead one to suspect it of extraordinary desire to woo some insect that will carry its pollen from blossom to blossom and so enable the plant to produce cross-fertilized seed to counteract the evil tendencies resulting from the more prolific self-fertilized cleistogamous flowers buried in the ground below.