Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Procession Flower - Polygala incarnata
Procession flower (Polygala incarnata) most often is seen in its lavender purple (or pinkish) form, but white-flowered specimens are sometimes encountered. In either form, it is distinctive in the way the flowers are arranged on the main stalk. This species occurs statewide in Florida and throughout much of the eastern half of the nation (and in Ontario, Canada) - though it is very rare in most of the northern states within its reported range. Procession flower is not classified as a wetland dependent species, but it occurs most commonly in mesic to moist flatwoods, savannas, and prairies.
Like so many "milkworts", procession flower is an annual that makes its appearance early in spring and reaches its mature height by late spring to very early summer. The leaves are small and linear, alternating along the stem and are almost scalelike below. Mature specimens rarely stand taller than 18-24 inches; just a bit taller on average than the surrounding vegetation.
The common name is derived from the way the flowers open within the open head. Blooming begins on the bottom and proceeds to the tip; each blossom remains open for just a few days. Individual flower structure is distinctive. The petals open in a somewhat sea urchin look-alike pattern while the lower portion is fused into a long floral tube. A solitary head occurs atop each main stem.
Procession flower is one of the more beautiful components of a wet prairie/open wet pineland habitat. Often, many specimens will be scattered throughout in areas where its growing requirements are met. But, despite its attractiveness, it is not currently offered by any commercial nursery I am aware of. Look for this in flower just about any time from late spring to late fall. In extreme south Florida, it may bloom at any time.