Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Drumheads - Polygala cruciata

Another very distinctive member of the milkwort genus is drumheads (Polygala cruciata). This species occurs throughout Florida, except in the very extreme southern tip, and throughout the eastern half of the US and in Ontario. In many states in the northern edge of its range, it is very rare.
Drumheads is a perennial and occurs in open wetland habitats.  Mature specimens rarely stand taller than 12 inches and are often partially hidden in the nearby grasses and forbs that grow with it,  The foliage is distinctive.  The small linear leaves are arranged in a whorl of 4 as they go up the stem. The stem is 4-angled.
What makes drumheads most distinctive, however, are the blooms.  The deep pink to pink-lavender flowers are arranged in ellptical heads - hence the common name.  The "flower" color actually comes from the spiky sepals that surround the yellow/white tubular petals inside.  As the petals open and fade, only the sepals remain - and these can last for weeks after the petals are gone. This arrangement is clearly shown in the top photo. Flowers can be encountered from late spring to mid-fall.
Drumheads is a beautiful and distinctive wildflower, but is not currently propagated commercially by anyone associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  As a perennial, it could be an interesting addition to a wetland garden or a wetland restoration project.  I have never tried to maintain this species in my home landscape and do not know how easy it might be to maintain.


  1. Could I grow this at the edge of our brackish water pond on Sanibel?

  2. This is a moist flatwoods species so I doubt it is salt-tolerant. As an annual, it also is not being propagated by anyone I know. Beautiful wildflower, but a difficult landscape choice, especially at this time.


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