Annual herb 15 cm - 0.6 m tall Stem: slender, unbranched or few-branched, grooved, covered with a waxy whitish coating (glaucous). Leaves: alternate, 0.5 - 1.2 cm long, linear, usually falling from plant by flowering time. Inflorescence: a dense cluster (raceme), 1 - 4 cm long, 1 - 1.5 cm across, nearly cylindrical. Flowers: pale rose purple, with three smaller outer sepals and two petal-like inner sepals (wings). The three petals are fused into a tube more than twice as long as the wings (7 - 10 mm) and one petal is fringed. Fruit: a dehiscent capsule with a hairy seed 2 mm long and a cellular appendage (aril) 1 mm long.
Similar species: Polygala incarnata, Polygala paucifolia, Polygala polygama, Polygala sanguinea, and Polygala senega all have alternate leaves. Polygala paucifolia is a creeping perennial with flowers longer than 11 mm. Polygala polygama and Polygala senega each have clusters of several stems. Polygala sanguinea has leaves that are larger (1 - 4 cm long) and persist after flowering.
Flowering: mid July to late September
Habitat and ecology: One of the rarest prairie plants in the Chicago Region.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Etymology: Polygala comes from the Greek words polys, meaning much, and gala meaning milk, referring to the old belief that milkworts would aid in milk secretion. Incarnata means flesh-colored.
Annual; stems slender, glaucous, simple or sparingly branched, 2-6 dm; lvs alternate, erect or ascending, linear, 5-12 mm; racemes dense, 1-4 cm נ10-15 mm; fls pale rose-purple, 7-10 mm, the cor more than twice as long as the wings, promptly deciduous after anthesis; seeds hairy, 2 mm, with a cellular aril 1 mm. Dry soil, upland woods, barrens, and prairies; L.I. to Mich., Wis., Io., and Kan., s. to Fla. and Tex. June-Aug. (Galypola i.)
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.