The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 28, 2004


Fringed Polygala

Name: Polygala paucifolia or Fringed Polygala. It is also known as the Flowering-wintergreen, the Fringed Milkwort and Gay-wings; it is a member of the milkwort family. "Poly" means much or many, and "gala" means milk. (Remember Lycogala? It's the Wolf's Milk slime mold, Mosquito archive, Oct. 25, 2002.) The species epithet, paucifolia, means "few leaves." The milkworts were named because of a belief that cows would give more milk if they ate these plants. There is much variety in the genus Polygala which includes both annuals and perennials; there are about 40 species in North America.

When and where seen: There is a clump in the Towle Woods that has been flowering for a couple of weeks. There were still flowers to be seen this past weekend. In 2002, I saw some flowering on June 2, near a pond in Great Brook Farm.

Identification: The flower is small but unmistakable. It is a rose-magenta color and has an unusual shape. There are five sepals, the larger two of which remain free and form the "wings." Sometimes these stick up like Mickey Mouse ears. The other three sepals form a tube about half an inch long at the end of which is the prominent fringe. The short-stalked oval leaves are few (paucifolia) and evergreen. There is a creeping stem, sometimes above the ground and sometimes below. The leaves and flowers rise about 4 to 5 inches above the ground.

Propagation: The plant is rare and protected. It can be grown from seed which are available from the New England Wild Flower society — you can contact them at It likes rich, damp, woodland areas where there is not too much weedy competition.

References: Carol H. Woodward and H. W. Rickett, New York Botanical Garden's Field Guide to Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States; Donald Wyman, Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Tell me what you are seeing, send me photos, or write the column. Send to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

Probable ermine sighting

Christy Barbee spotted a family of weasel-like critters crossing the road on Cranberry Hill Lane. Identification is dubious but it is likely that they were Mustela erminea, aka short-tailed weasel or ermine. There was an adult and four young ones. The adult was about 12 inches long and the young ones six to seven inches. All were darkish brown on their backs and white underneath.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito