Cross-Leaved Milkwort

Cross-leaved_Milkwort_jpgThis family (Polygalaceae) commonly known as the Milkwort family consists of 18 genera and 950 species of herbs, shrubs, lianas and trees.  The Greek name polugalon (from polus, “much” and gala, “milk) was applied by Dioscorides to a plant, “harsh to the taste and this also being drunk is thought to cause more milk”.  It Milkwort family was thought to “engendreth plenty of milk; therefore it is good to be used of nurses that lack milk”. The name of plants in this genus (Polygala) means “much milk”.  The species name (cruciata) refers to the cross-shaped arrangement of four leaves. In 1851 Thoreau wrote “Polygala cruciata, cross-leaved polygala, in the meadow behind Trillium Woods and the railroad.  This is a rare and new to me.  It has a very sweet, but as it were intermittent, fragrance, as of a checkerberry and mayflower combined”. In his Irish Herbal (1735) K’Eogh wrote of the Milkwort: “it has a hot dry nature, and it encourages the production of milk in nursing mothers.”  In modern times the reputation for increasing milk production in nursing mothers is deemed to be unfounded.

OtherCommonName:

Drumheads

ScientificName:

Polygala cruciata

Community:

Thicket

PlantStatus:

Native

LifeSpan:

Annual

PlantHeight:

4 to 12 inches

FruitingTime:

Distribution:

Maine to Florida ~ Throughout the Coastal Plain, most abundant in the Pine Barrens and fringes in New Jersey

FloweringTime:

Early July to October

IdentifyingCharacteristics:

Drum heads (cluster of flowers at end of a spike) erect ~ Branches few ~ Leaves chiefly whorls of 3 or 4 ~ Flowers pale rose-purple or greenish purple, very sweet fragrance, terminate in slender cusp