Polygala paucifolia in a woodland garden?

chervil2(z5 MA)May 16, 2004

Does anyone have knowledge about growing this beautiful flower in a woodland garden? The common names of Polygala paucifolia are Fringed Polygala, Flowering Wintergreen, and Gaywings.

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I think this is a great little plant. One of the jewels of the forest floor. I find it in a wide variety of areas. It's most prevalent in moist sites, but I've found it in drier areas on the north side of ridges. A mixed conifer and deciduous forest with a sparse population of competing plants seems to be the ideal site.

It isn't often mentioned when a woodland garden in discussed, but I don't know why. It is somewhat difficult to find a commercial source, and it does take time to establish; but I think the results are worth the effort.

The ones that I have are just beginning to bloom. Those that do best are in a "woodsy" soil rich in humus. Mine are in partial shade, but I've seen them growing in almost full sun along the roadside. When they get a lot of sun, they seem to need a moist soil to do well.

One interesting characteristic of Polygala paucifolia is that it has two kinds of flowers. The purple orchidlike flowers and cleistogamous (closed, self-pollinated) flowers.

Some other small plants that would mix in nicely are Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) and Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius).

    Bookmark   May 17, 2004 at 1:56AM
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waplummer(Z5 NY)

A few years after we bought our wooded lot and built our home, one section of the ackwoods was iterally carpeted with Polygala paucifolia. In the 30 years since it has disappeared except for one lone plant. Anemone thalictroides which also was native and quite abundant has died out as have some of the indigent hepatica acutifolia. Any apeculations, anyone?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2004 at 1:22PM
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david_5311(Z 5b/6a SE Mich)

I don't know how this does in warmer climates, but in northern Michigan this is quite a common species, occuring in acid soil woodlands, conifer swamps, even woodland edges on beaches of the upper great lakes with a limestone/alkaline soil. I also have the impression though that it is less common than it was 20 years ago, for reasons unknown to me. It used to be quite common in the mixed conifer-deciduous woods around my in-laws house in N MI, as did Cypripedium acaule, and both have disappeared even though the woods look the same. In fact, I too have the impression that many of the wildflowers which used to be common here have declined significantly, as Waplummer notes. Loss of habitat, competition with invasives, Increasing isolation of populations from each other, deer/rabbits/woodchucks with no predators, who knows exactly why?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2004 at 3:00PM
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Gnomlet(z6 CT)

In my little woodland garden I grow it on a 4' by 20' mound about 18" above the surrounding area. The soil is 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 peat, 1/3 sand and is acid. The little gaywings are spreading happily and are associated with star flower, Canada mayflower, rue anemone, ferns and others. Overtopping and to the south of the mound are white pine. I had only two flowers this year but lots of new growth so I'm looking forward to next year.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2004 at 3:58PM
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A plant more associated with the northern hardwood/conifer mixed woodlands of the northern tier states in the USA. It also does occur in the Appalachians south to at least Virginia. I tried growing it many years ago from plants my father and I had taken from our property in the Catskill mountains of New York State. They came up the first year and flowered nicely, the next year they grew well but with fewer flowers. This was in zone 6b near NY City. More at home in zones 5 and colder, seems to prefer acidic soils in shady environs. Worth a try, a beautiful little plant! :) PF

    Bookmark   May 20, 2004 at 6:02PM
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I recently moved near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and have Gay Wings on our property. I would like to learn how to get them to spread, transplant, and propagate them. They are rare in this area. Internet search, gardening & wildflower books have been of no help in propagation. Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2004 at 4:44PM
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Lily_digger(4A MN)

The ones on my property in northern Minnesota, zone 3, are growing in a location that is typically pine/birch/spruce (mostly spruce where they reside.) They appear with star flower, bunchberry, blueberries, and clintonia, on a north-facing slope on the partly-sunny edges of the driveway. This is very sandy soil and pretty dry, but for the protection of the leaf and needle mulch. They are not growing in the moist area of my property where nodding trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, etc., are native. That doesn't say much about how to propagate, but it does speak to what they seem to like. They have been there for the 25 years I have owned the property. I've never tried to place them anywhere else, however.

I LOVE them.


    Bookmark   July 21, 2004 at 11:30PM
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I hope you do not mind my adding my input here...I have been successfully propagating and growing the Fringed Polygala in my woodland nursery a few years now.

In my experience transplanting the Fringed Polygala plants 6 to 8 inches apart each way and 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep into a 3 to 4 inch layer of leaf mould with the addition of some eastern white pine needle compost...in a dappled shade or semi-shady location works well.

Here in zone 5 some of the Fringed Polygalas enjoy a few hours of early morning or late afternoon full sun exposure and semi-shade.

I assume the Fringed Polygalas need mycorrhizal fungus to thrive and grow well. I suggest mycorrhizal fungi inoculation when transplanting the Fringed Polygalas.

I suggest transplanting the Fringed Polygala within 2 to 6 feet of the trunks or base of trees, in a mixed conifer-deciduous woodland or pine/spruce/hemlock woodland location for best results.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2004 at 9:47AM
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