Milkworts

Heath Milkwort Heath Milkwort Heath Milkwort Heath Milkwort

What are they?

Milkworts form the family Polygalaceae, a widespread and diverse family around the globe, but in the UK, consisting of a small handful of very similar, low-growing, herbaceous perennials. The flowers are vividly coloured blue, pink or white and are rather unusually constructed on close inspection. There are three outer sepals that are small and pointed, then two inner sepals that are much larger and appear as wing-like petals. Inside these is a set of three petals, joined together to form a tube with the lower one having a distinctly fringed lip. This configuration is diagnostic, but without close attention, the flowers could be initially mistaken for tiny violets - though they are arranged in a vertical spike, not singly.

Where are they found?

These are low, creeping plants, found in areas of short grass and usually a good indicator of a healthy plant community. May be found in both wet and dry, acidic grassland, as well as in short-cropped chalk grasslands.

Identification

The two species in our area are very similar but can be told apart by the arrangement - alternate or opposite - of the lower leaves. If the leaves have already dropped, the scars left behind on the stems can still be used to determine the arrangement.



Common Milkwort      Polygala vulgaris

Native. Widespread in short turf on light, chalky soils, being most common in the west of the region, becoming rarer eastward. Flowers May to September. Flowers blue, white or pink, with all three colours often growing in the same colony. All leaves alternate, including the lower ones. When leaves have fallen, the stem scars left behind can still be used to determine the leaf arrangement.

Common Milkwort Common Milkwort Common Milkwort Common Milkwort
Flower
Flowers
Flowers
Lower leaves alternate


Heath Milkwort      Polygala serpyllifolia

Native. Greatly declined since former times and now uncommon to rare and confined to a small number of dry, acid heaths and wet acid fens. Flowers May to September. Flowers blue, white or pink, with all three colours often growing in the same colony. Upper leaves alternate, lower leaves opposite. When leaves have fallen, the stem scars left behind can still be used to determine the leaf arrangement.

Heath Milkwort Heath Milkwort Heath Milkwort Heath Milkwort
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Lower leaves opposite