Fringed polygala is a North American native plant. Polygala means “much milk,” a reference to fringed polygala’s reputed ability to stimulate
the production of milk in people and other mammals. It is found in all forests, except the wettest and the driest, most often with fir, cedar, birch, aspen, hemlock, and pines. It is common near shorelines, in calcerous or
Identification: When I first noticed these tiny but colorful flowers,
I thought they must be violets, which were also in bloom. On closer inspection, though, they look much
different, more like orchids, for which they are sometimes mistaken. But these flowers have a fringed center and
two large opposing petals, hence
the name “gaywings.”
Plants: Plants are evergreen, and less than 6" (15 cm)
Leaves: Upper leaves are oval, and near the top
of the stem, just beneath the flowers. They are not separated into leaflets, and they are
entire, that is, not divided. Leaf edges are rough, but not toothed.
They are 1-1½" (2.5-3.8 cm) × ½-¾" (1.3-1.9 cm).
Flowers: Each diminutive plant sports one to four flowers.
They are a bright magenta or pink color, about ¾-1" (1.9-2.5 cm) in size.
Rarely, flowers are white, or blue to purple.
Each flower has two showy side petals—the “wings”—and a central tubelike structure. The tube
is comprised of two smaller equally bright petals, and
a third, which extends a bit further, ending in a bright pink or white “pom pom.”
Five sepals are largely enclosed within
the pink tube. Flowers appears from May to June.
Fruits: Capsules are somewhat heart-shaped,
up to ⅛" (6 mm) long.
Medical: Fringed polygala was once believed to contain
compounds that stimulate milk production in nursing mammals. It has also been used historically
for abscesses, boils, and sores.