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Fringed Polygala

Fringed Polygala Flowering

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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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Fringed Polygala Flowering

5-8-12 fringed polygala IMG_7780Thank you so much for all of your warm, welcoming emails regarding my first and only grandchild. Naturally Curious blog posts may be intermittent for the next week or so, but eventually will resume five posts a week.

Fringed Polygala looks a bit like a miniature orchid, but it is not — it is in the Milkwort family. The structure of its ¾-inch bright magenta-pink blossoms is well-suited for its bumblebee pollinators. The bee lands on the pink fringe at the front of the flower and its weight triggers the white “keel” to drop down. A slit at the keel’s top opens, exposing the reproductive parts of the flower. Pollen from the stamens is rubbed onto the bee’s hairs while it probes deeply into the base of the flower for nectar, while pollen from a previously visited Fringed Polygala is scraped off onto the stigma, where it needs to be in order for fertilization to take place.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.