2016 Wildflower of the Year
Photo Credit: Jackie Donnelly
Fringed polygala is also known as gaywings, fringed milkwort, bird-on-the-wing, and flowering wintergreen. You may notice that the genus name has changed. During research for the Flora of North America it was changed in 2011 from Polygala to Polygaloides (Abbott, J.R. 2011. Notes on the disintegration of Polygala (Polygalaceae) with four new genera for the flora of North America. J. Bot. Res. Inst. Texas 5: 125-137.) because it has larger flowers, fewer stamens (6 vs. 8) and fewer leaves arranged near the top of the plant than the rest of the genus Polygala. This is the only species in this genus in the US.
This is one of our most striking flowers in the spring flora with its beautiful rose-purple (sometimes white), wing-like sepals and a tube of three petals, the lower one keeled and bearing a fringe that serves as a platform for bumblebee pollinators. You will find fringed polygala flowering in colonies on the forest floor in May and June. People have confused this cute little flower for an orchid because of its peculiar shape and its leaves can be confused with wintergreen leaves when no flowers are present. A quick crush of the leaves will tell you if they are wintergreen or not. In addition to the colorful flowers fringed polygala also produces cleistogamous (closed) flowers at the base of the plant that are self-fertile. Below are the best websites to learn more about this amazing wildflower.
Its distribution in the US
NY Flora Atlas Information