Polygaloides paucifolia (Gaywings)

Plant Info
Also known as: Fringed Milkwort, Fringed Polygala, Flowering Wintergreen
Family:Polygalaceae (Milkwort)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; dry to moist rich woods, acidic soil, often under pines
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:3 to 7 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular

[photo of flower] One to 4, deep pink to nearly white flowers, each about ¾ inch (15 to 23 mm) across, arise from leaf axils at the stem tip. Two oval petal-like sepals are arranged opposite each other at flower base and flair out likes wings. Two more sepals are neatly wrapped around the center flower column, and a fifth, highly modified with delicate lavender fringes at the crest closes up the underside. Petal-less, self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers are also produced later in the season, on very short stems above or below ground.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate but mostly crowded near the tip of the stem where they appear whorled, these upper leaves up to about 1½ inches (15 to 40+ mm) long, up to about ¾ inch wide, egg-shaped to elliptic to spoon shaped, blunt to pointed at the tip, abruptly tapered at the base to a stalk shorter than the blade. Edges are toothless and often fringed with short, curled hairs. Leaves lower on the stem are much reduced in size and stalkless. Stems are ascending to erect, hairless and unbranched. Plants form loose colonies from creeping rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is a 2-seeded capsule ¼ to 1/3 inch (5 to 8 mm) long, nearly round in outline. Seeds are up to 3.5 mm long with a 2-lobed appendage that is half to about as long as the seed.


Gaywings, formerly known as Polygala paucifolia, is restricted to our north central and northeastern counties, primarily in mixed and coniferous forests, swamps and bogs. It is quite small and unassuming until the flowers, like small birds taking to flight, catch your eye, then you may see it in abundance among the surrounding woodland flora.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Lake of the Woods County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk, taken in Hubbard and Lake of the Woods counties, and in Michigan.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: carole - west shore of Ball Club Lake, Itasca County
on: 2015-06-04 12:16:32

We went to look at a property in Itasca County yesterday. It was a wonderful place for botanists who enjoy a bog walk, but not so great for lake access for fishing. Pretty place!

Posted by: Brian - Near Highway 1, just south of Ely
on: 2015-06-12 12:46:28

One June 8, I observed several blooming gaywings close to the road. They were growing in a stand of red pine.

Posted by: Roberta - Caarlton County
on: 2016-05-30 14:17:56

We have spotted this plant two years in a row. The ones we see have two blossoms each facing a separate direction. They are close to the ground and quite small. The book I use calls them "Bird on a wing".

Posted by: Lynne - Intersection of Hwy 1 and Hwy 2 , St Louis Cnty
on: 2016-06-04 08:20:32

There is an interp site where an old logging camp stood. Along the trail leading to a county latrine you can see these flowers.

Posted by: John L - Ideal, MN
on: 2017-05-17 20:45:16

Wow! I was really stoked to see this beautiful flower for the first time while doing some winter cleanup near a firepit at a camp.

Posted by: Roberta O - Carlton County
on: 2017-05-29 10:44:58

We find these every year . They have always had just two flowers. This year, we found one with three. I would send a picture if I knew where to send it.

Posted by: Julie - Embarrass
on: 2019-06-16 23:01:56

We have an area of 3'x4' in a shady area of the yard with about 50 of these interesting and delicate flowers.

Posted by: Jutta Karin Schultz - Grand Rapids, MN
on: 2021-06-01 18:21:19

Saw hundreds of these on the trails in George Washington State Forest off of River Road.

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