Fringed Polygala or Gaywings
Polygala paucifolia


At first glance, the color and texture of this flower call to mind an orchid.  The complicated structure, complete with wing-like sepals, resembles a flying bird or airplane.  Two petals are joined together to make a tube; a third, lower petal is fringed.

The rosy pink or purple flowers are only about 1 inch long and are borne at the top of the tiny plant, itself only a few inches tall. The evergreen leaves are small and have a smooth edge, like wintergreen.  In fact, another common name for gaywings is flowering wintergreen.  Except for the unusual vibrancy of the flower, the size of the gaywings plant makes it easy to miss on the leaf-covered forest floor.

This plant is in the Milkwort Family.  Back in the time when wild plants were used regularly for medicinal purposes, milkworts were fed to nursing mothers and cows to increase milk production. Gaywings was also used to treat skin irritations.  Look for this plant in April and May. These photos were taken on the top of Brush Mountain  and around Pandapas Pond, near Blacksburg.

Locally, another name for this plant is “Birds on the Wing”.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Hildegard Eliason says:

    I found a big patch in Wisconsin close to Green Bay growing in very sandy soil. Took me many hours to find out its name. Are gaywing’s rare in Wisconsin?

    1. Gloria says:

      I can see online that it is native to Wisconsin and on up into Canada. As to how common they are, I don’t know. What I do know is that they are so small that they are easy to miss on the forest floor, and their flowering period is not very long either. So, they could be quite common but just not easily noticed!

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