Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Polygala polygama

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Pink Milkwort Flowering 2080

How’s that for a catchy botanical name and post title: Polygala polygama? Just one letter different—and consecutive letters in the alphabet at that—between the genus and species. Vernacular names for this wildflower are pink milkwort and racemed milkwort, though I wouldn’t believe for a minute that racemed is part of the vernacular. Now, polygamous, that’s another story.

Speaking of fancy-dancy, what do you make of cleistogamous? Definitely hoity-toity, no doubt about it. It’s a technical term for a kind of flower that never opens and that manages to fertilize itself; no polygamists need apply for that job. And yes, this isn’t all idle talk, because Polygala polygama is a species that in addition to regular flowers produces cleistogamous ones near or even under the ground. Wanna see? Just look at the little white nodules in the second picture.


These photographs are from near the end of the April 27th field trip to Bastrop led by botanist Bill Carr. By then we were on Harmon Rd., a little east of the state park.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 1, 2014 at 6:00 AM

16 Responses

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  1. Joanna reminds me that Violets are cleistogamous as well. Like this Polygala, Violets produce similar nodules and deposit seeds right at ground level. She observes, ‘A great strategy that makes these plants so successful.’ I was a bit sleepy when I went to my reader this morning … your poly-syllabic eye-opener has me wide awake! D

    Pairodox Farm

    July 1, 2014 at 6:09 AM

    • I didn’t know that violets are often cleistogamous, or that that’s why they’re so successful. I wouldn’t have known that this Polygala is also cleistogamous if Bill Carr hadn’t shown us, so thanks to all the experts for filling me in. And I’ll take credit for being your polysyllabic eye-opener this morning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 1, 2014 at 7:00 AM

  2. This plant has all angles covered.


    July 1, 2014 at 6:33 AM

  3. I’m just amazed. When I was researching violets for my current post, I learned that some species also are cleistogamous. I’d never heard the term, or heard of the phenomenon. Very interesting, and what fun that you showed as well as told.

    I never would have imagined such a connection between pink milkwort and violets. Maybe John Muir was right when he said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”


    July 1, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    • Another coincidence, even if these photographs are from over two months ago and this post has been waiting weeks to appear. Would that all the people who quote Muir had their versions coincide with your correct one.

      I don’t know why I almost never see the species of violet that despite its name is native in Austin, the Missouri violet. Years ago I found and photographed one flowering alongside the main creek in Great Hills Park, but I’ve never found any there since; maybe a subsequent flash flood washed all the seeds away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 1, 2014 at 7:13 AM

    • I found more on floral symmetry here:


      Steve Schwartzman

      July 1, 2014 at 7:26 AM

      • I never would have thought of looking for an article on floral symmetry. Many thanks – my bookmarks folder for all things botanical is filling up nicely.

        By the way — I enjoyed that juxtaposition of “fancy-dancy,” “hoity-toity,” and “wanna.” That’s pure fun.


        July 1, 2014 at 7:52 PM

  4. Count me among the group who learned something new today. Your posts are always so informative. 🙂


    July 1, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    • You may have heard me say this before, Karen: once a teacher, always a teacher. I don’t know if that’s true for every veteran teacher, but it’s true for me. Of course cause often can’t be distinguished from effect, and it’s possible that people who like explaining or are good at it go into teaching in the first place.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 1, 2014 at 7:30 AM

  5. Interesting underground flowering by this over ground beauty. Is there some special strategy for that cleistogamous behavior? Maybe just insurance against non-pollination by the flowers above? There must be some ecological benefit for the expenditure of energy in this.

    Around here, we have Polygala paucifolia aka Fringed Polygala or Gaywings which I think is in your neck of the woods too.

    Steve Gingold

    July 1, 2014 at 5:52 PM

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