An old name composed of polus, much, and gala, milk, from a fancied property of its increasing this secretion.
Perennial. A delicate plant with very handsome rose-colored flowers, found in open woods, fields, and meadows of light sandy soils. Maine to Minnesota and south along the Alleghanies. Appears in northern Ohio. May-September.
Three to six inches high; upper part leafy, lower part bearing small ovate, leafy scales; these stems rise from prostrate or subterranean shoots which bear concealed fertile flowers.
Four to five upon a stem, petioled, alternate, ovate, entire, about an inch long and half an inch wide.
Showy, rose-purple, irregular, one to three upon each stem. The plant also produces cleistogamous flowers.
Of five irregular sepals, three exterior and smaller, the two inner ones larger, colored like petals and called wings.
Of three petals, the middle one keel-shaped and fringe-crested, the two side ones oblong, concave, and united to the keel the greater part of their length.
Six; filaments more or less united into a tube; anthers two-lipped, opening by a terminal pore.
Ovary two-celled; style long and somewhat curved.
A small, flat, two-seeded pod; the seeds are ap-pendaged with two or three awl-shaped lobes.
Pollinated by bees and bee-like flies. Nectar-bearing.
The Polygala blossom is beautiful in form and color, but very puzzling in structure. This is due to the fact that the five sepals are neither symmetrical in shape nor alike in color. Three are greenish and of sepal-like character, two drop their sepal look, become larger than the others and rose-colored - in short, group themselves with the petals and apparently become corolla.
The three petals also are unsymmetrical - more or less grown together, and the middle one develops a keel and a crest which is beautifully fringed. In color the flower is rose or rarely pure white. Probably there is no flowering plant, whatever color its corolla may normally be, that does not at some time develop an albino.
Professor William W. Bailey reports this as one of the abundant May blossoms of New England, found in low thickets and borders of woods. John Burroughs also writes: "I must not forget to mention that delicate and lovely flower of May, the Fringed Polygala. It is rather a shy flower, and is not found in every wood. One day we went up and down through the woods looking for it - woods of mingled oak, chestnut, pine, and hemlock - and were about giving it up when suddenly we came upon a gay company of them beside an old wood road. It was as if a flock of small rose-purple butterflies had alighted there on the ground before us. The whole plant has a singularly fresh and tender aspect. Its foliage is of a slightly purple tinge and of very delicate texture. Not the least interesting feature about the plant is the concealed fertile flower which it bears on a subterranean stem."
Fringed Polygala. Polygala paucifolia
Frances M. Abbott, writing of Concord, Massachusetts, says: "The flower of this month that seems particularly characteristic is the Fringed Polygala, that glows among the Star-Flowers, Bunchberries, and Claytonias, which carpet nearly all our woods." The common names given to the plant, Gay-Wings, May-Wings, Bird-on-the-Wing, are each and every one a caress as well as recognition of the airy-winged suggestion of the blossom. The size, form, and purplish tinge of the leaves resemble young Wintergreen leaves, and for this reason the plant is called Flowering Winter-green.