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Fringed Polygala Flowering

6-6-17 fringed polygala 195

I would like to dedicate this post to Jenepher Lingelbach, my very dear friend and giant contributor to the field of environmental education in Vermont. Thousands of people, both children and adults, benefitted from her enthusiastic and bountiful natural curiosity and her delight in sharing it with others.  Jen’s influence will be felt for many generations to come.

Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia) is one of those wildflowers that I am irresistibly drawn to photograph and post about almost every year. Also called Gaywings, this diminutive flower (about 1 ½ inches long) is a member of the Milkwort family, and produces compounds reputed to increase milk production in nursing mammals. The flaring wings and propeller-like. fringe on the flower’s tip give it the appearance of a small magenta airplane. When pollinators (mostly bumble bees) land on the fringe-tipped petal, the reproductive structures are exposed. In addition to the showy flowers that are insect-pollinated, there are also inconspicuous flowers that are borne underground and which self-fertilize without opening. (Thanks to Roger and Eleanor Shepard, and Sara and Warren Demont for photo op.)

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25 responses

  1. Marilyn

    What a beautiful little wildflower to honor your friend!

    June 7, 2017 at 8:08 am

  2. Alice Pratt

    Another gorgeous wonder.

    June 7, 2017 at 8:09 am

  3. Barbara

    Looks like a little magenta bird. Where are these found?

    June 7, 2017 at 8:30 am

    • Mostly in coniferous forests, Barbara, but also in mixed woods.

      June 7, 2017 at 8:49 am

      • There are impressive patches of them in the Quechee Gorge State Park, the largest I’ve ever come across.

        June 7, 2017 at 11:11 am

  4. Alice Pratt

    Mary: I “googled” your friend, Jenepher Linglebach, .she wrote so many books…I’ll need to read or buy them. Nature and children are a wonderful match.

    June 7, 2017 at 8:59 am

  5. Susan Burnett-Halling

    Hi Mary,

    I am sad to mention this, but the lady slippers in a favorite sanctuary woods were picked, I believe. Will they flower in subsequent years? Also, I attended a talk on edibles and it was mentioned that indian pipes were edible. I asked the speaker of this talk if it was true that once picked, the indian pipes won’t grow back? His response was that we should be eating them and sharing this knowledge; but I didn’t get a real answer.

    I guess more mention of not picking these rare gems should happen…


    June 7, 2017 at 9:04 am

    • Hi Susan, I’m not an expert, but I think if the lady’s slipper’s leaves were not picked or damaged, and roots were not disturbed, so as not to interfere with mycorrhizal fungi, it would continue to photosynthesize, and flowering in subsequent years could take place.
      Similarly, if the fungi surrounding the roots of Indian Pipe were not disturbed, so that the fungi covering them and providing them with sugars they received from the trees they attached to, they, too, could flower again, but it would probably take a long time for the plant to accumulate enough sugars to flower. As you say, how sad that someone knowledgeable is advocating picking these plants.

      June 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

    • They may not have been picked but instead eaten by moose (or presumably deer like them as well). I know of a bog that has a healthy population of showy lady’s slippers. A couple of years ago just as the bloom was peaking, most of them disappeared. Upon closer investigation, the stubs of the plants remained, and plenty of moose tracks peppered the bog.

      June 7, 2017 at 11:18 am

  6. Tom Guglielmo

    One of my favorite wildflowers. And blooms in greet perfusion at Mohonk.


    June 7, 2017 at 9:12 am

  7. Doreen Morse

    Is the fringed polygala on the decline in general? When i was young (50 years ago) the woods at my home in Pepperell, MA were carpeted with it this time of year. Now, when I went to walk there, I couldn’t find even one growing in that woods. What would cause this?

    June 7, 2017 at 9:20 am

  8. betsy janeway

    Fringed Polygala is also called “Bird-on-the-Wing,” and “Baby-Toes.” I love these adorable nicknames. It looks rather like the Arethusa that is just blooming in a nearby bog over here in New Hampshire. We go out in kayaks and canoes every spring and count them…just for fun. After the Arethusa is over, the Rose Pogonia blooms in this bog. Come visit, Mary!

    June 7, 2017 at 9:28 am

  9. Thanks for mentioning Jen, who was one of my parishioners. The first time I visited her, I happened to mention your blog and books, and was delighted to learn you were friends. She will be deeply missed.

    June 7, 2017 at 9:48 am

  10. Kathie Fiveash

    Interesting that the fringed polygala in my neck of the woods in central MA bloomed several weeks ago.

    June 7, 2017 at 10:03 am

    • Hi Kathie,
      Yes, the little patch I know about is a little late this year!

      June 7, 2017 at 10:33 am

  11. I’m pretty sure that it was Jennifer who taught the class at VINS that I participated in, back in 1986, when I was just about to become an elementary school teacher. Two things I remember clearly: the power of puppet shows for introducing concepts about ecology and the natural world to children (after my school stopped doing ELF, I used puppet show scripts from Hands On Nature with my classes, having children make their own puppets and present the shows to classmates, and we practiced listening for the learning points in each show – they loved this!); and the way she opened my eyes to the diversity and beauty of grasses (I still collect bouquets of grass (and sedge) seed heads each fall, and have them in my house through the winter). She was a visionary and an inspiration!

    June 7, 2017 at 10:33 am

    • I couldn’t agree more, Dell. Together we had the fun of designing ELF workshops, and a better time could not have been had!

      June 7, 2017 at 10:35 am

  12. Kathleen Thornton

    I used to pick these little beauties in the wooded areas near my home in Southern Maine. Locally, we called them “bird on the wing”. My best friend and I would collect small bouquets of them and sell them to people in our neighborhood. Thank you for bringing back a very fond childhood memory.

    June 7, 2017 at 11:32 am

  13. Susan Holland

    What a lovely tribute to Jen. I treasure the book of her poetry that you gave me and the memories I have of her.

    June 7, 2017 at 11:50 am

  14. Kathie Fiveash

    I just ordered Jenepher’s book of poems. I am sad to have missed knowing such a kindred spirit.

    June 7, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    • You would have loved her. She really is a kindred spirit.

      June 7, 2017 at 5:03 pm

  15. Phil Fitzpatrick

    Lovely and unknown to me. Where does one find it ? In the marsh ?

    June 7, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    • Hi Phil,
      Most often in coniferous woods.

      June 8, 2017 at 6:55 am

      • Phil

        Thank you, Mary. I have plentyof those near my ADK camp.

        June 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm

  16. Susan Sawyer

    Sad to lose Jen — she was the ELF trainer for most of the 9 years I volunteered before I went to work for VINS and became a trainer myself (1993). She was a wonderful example of a good teacher — I owe her a great debt. I’m still working on the great project you and she and the rest of the crew began, so many years ago. I was out with a class of 3rd and 4th graders today, looking for frogs in the school beaver pond. The kids found a tiny painted turtle hatchling on its first trip to water after emerging — they carefully let it go and watched it swim off. Thanks, Jen, for making a path for so many of us to follow.

    June 8, 2017 at 5:41 pm

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