Fringed Polygala (also Gaywings, Bird-on-the-wing and other common names) reportedly occurs in most counties in New York State, yet I seldom see this colorful, woodland gem. It’s tiny – just a few inches tall – so I have probably overlooked it on some of my field trips. Site preferences may also be a factor. The small colony that I visit each May occupies a well-drained, acidic, upland habitat in an oak-maple-hemlock woodland – an uncommon association in these parts that I don’t often visit.
When I discovered Fringed Polygala years ago, I was sure I was looking at an orchid and couldn’t wait to dig into my field guides to learn more. Apparently I wasn’t alone in my ignorance, because both of my reliable references said “Not an orchid — it’s in the Milkwort family”!
Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.