Saturday, July 1, 2023

Georgia Milkwort - Polygala leptostachys

Georgia milkwort (Polygala leptostachys) is an annual member of a large genus of wildflowers native to Florida.  Despite its common name, it is far more widespread in Florida than it is in Georgia - or the rest of the Southeast for that matter.  It has been vouchered in many of the counties in north Florida and its range extends down the west coast to Pasco County.  It is sporadically reported from the extreme southern counties of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.  Throughout its range, it occurs in well-drained soils and open habitats such as sandhills and disturbed roadsides.

Georgia milkwort is easily overlooked due to its small stature and tiny flowers.  The thin stem can reach a maximum height of about 12 inches at maturity. It is unbranched along most of that height until near the top where it forms 2-3 flowering stems.  The leaves are 1/2-1 inch long and linear; arranged in whorls along the stem.

Flowering occurs in early to mid-summer.  Clusters of greenish white flowers are produced at the tips of the stems.  Each inflorescence is only about 1 inch long and composed of more than a dozen blooms that are less than 0.1 inch long.  As in other members of the milkwort genus, they are composed of 2 winged sepals and 3 smaller side ones as well 3 petals of which one is "keeled" and bearing a fringed crest.  All of this is difficult to distinguish without a good hand or macro lens due to their small size. The flowers bloom from the bottom of the inflorescence up.

Milkworts are primarily pollinated by bees, but I have no reports of this wildflower's significance to pollinators. Its small size and its status as an annual make it very unlikely to be propagated by native plant nurseries. It is an interesting species, however, and should be looked for in the right habitat conditions during its summer blooming period. It may be more widespread than it has been reported.

The photos above were taken by my friend and wonderful nature photographer, Floyd Griffith, and used by permission.

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