Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Plant of the Week: Gaywings or Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia)

This is an easy woodland wildflower to overlook but it is a delight whenever you stumble across it because of its brightly-colored flowers and diminutive size.  It is often mistaken for an orchid but in reality it is a member of the milkwort family which, when eaten by mammals supposedly stimulates milk production.  Hence the name polygala is derived from the Latin "poly" meaning many and "gala" meaning milk. The species normally occurs throughout the eastern United States in coniferous forests, typically on moist acidic sites. Emerging from creeping slightly underground stems, a smallish 2 - 3" tall plant arises with 3/4" long unique flowers that resemble an airplane with two wings and a propeller The actual flowers are made up of five sepals and three petals. There are three smaller sepals and two larger expanded sepals that appear like the wings on the plane. Two of the three petals are fused to form a tubular structure that resembles the fuselage of the plane and the third petal forms a koosh ball type structure and when a bug lands on this it pushes the other petals down and allows for the flower to be pollinated. This plant also has underground flowers that self-fertilize without opening.  In the appropriate habitat, this species can form large colonies and with the deep magenta colored flowers can be quite showy in the garden, if used appropriately.  This is a worthy garden species but it takes considerable time to build up a population as it is slow to reproduce.   Try this soil mixture for growing it in the garden: 1/3 topsoil or organic humus (leaf litter), 1/3 peat, 1/3 sand and if you can find it throw in some good ground pine needles or mulch.  Throw in a bit of mycorrhizal fungi inoculation for good measure.  Be sure it is a shady site as well. Good companion plants would include false rue anenome, Canada mayflower, wintergreen, and maybe a wood lily for some height.  There is only one nursery I know of that sells this species and it is Enchanter's Garden in Hinton, WV.  This species may need to be pampered, but it is well worth the effort when those beautiful flowers show up in April!

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