Field Milkwort

Polygala sanguinea

field_milkwort_tucker_prairie_7-19-14.jpg

Photo of field milkwort flowerheads.
The dense, cylindrical flower clusters of field milkwort are pink to white and look something like a clover head.
Family

Polygalaceae (milkworts)

Description

Small, herbaceous annual with angled stems, usually not branching. Flowers in terminal, dense, cylindrical heads, ranging from pink to white to green. Each flower has 5 sepals: The top 1 and lower 2 sepals are small and green, and the 2 side sepals are prominent, larger, and petallike, pink or white. The 3 petals are joined, forming a small, narrow tube, and are also pink or white. Blooms May–October. Leaves alternate, widely spaced, linear to narrowly elliptical, edged with extremely small teeth. Stalks are hairless, though spiky remnants of spent, dropped flowers remain beneath the flower head.

Size

Height: to about 8 inches.

Field Milkwort

Pink cylindrical flowers atop long straight stems with thin green leaves branching from the stem.
Field milkwort in Gasconade County

Field Milkwort-20190705-707.jpeg

Pink cylindrical flowers bloom from stalks of milkwort
Blooming Milkwort in a field in Boone County
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in dry or wet situations in prairies, old fields, meadows, and glades, often on poor or acid soils.

image of Field Milkwort distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide except northwestern counties.

Status

Although the flowering heads of milkwort resemble those of a clover plant, milkworts are in their own family.

Human connections

Another species, P. senega, was used by Native Americans as a remedy for snakebite (milkworts are also called "snakeroots"). Though no longer used for treating snakebites, senega root is still being collected by root diggers, since herbalists sell it for a variety of other medicinal uses.

Ecosystem connections

A variety of bees visit the flowers, and some butterflies and moths use it as their larval food plant.