Polygala senega (Seneca Snakeroot)
|Also known as:||Mountain Flax, Rattlesnake Snakeroot|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; sandy or rocky soil; prairies, stream banks|
|Bloom season:||May - July|
|Plant height:||10 to 18 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Spike-like raceme, usually densely arranged, up to about 1½ inches (to 4 cm) long at the tip of the stem. Flowers are short-stalked, white to greenish-white, about 1/6 inch (2 to 4 mm) long with 2 spreading, oval to nearly round, petal-like sepals flanking 3 petals rolled into a central column with a white-fringed, greenish crest. Flowers bloom from the bottom of the spike up.
Leaves and stem:
Leaves are alternate, 1 to 3+ inches (to 8 cm) long, 1/3 to 1 1/3 inch (8 to 35 mm) wide, linear to lance-elliptic, widest at or below the middle, toothless, hairless or minutely hairy, blunt or pointed at the tip, tapering at the base, stalkless or sometimes short-stalked. The lowest leaves may be significantly reduced in size and the uppermost leaves are often largest. Stems are usually unbranched and multiple from the base, erect to ascending, hairless or minutely hairy, green to purplish.
Seneca Snakeroot is found in about half of Minnesota, in a band from Kittson County in the northwest corner down to Houston County in the southeast, absent in the northeast and southwest corners of the state. It frequents open grasslands and woodland openings. The flower spike is similar to the related Whorled Milkwort (P. verticillata) but the latter has leaves whorled in 4s or 5s and usually branches frequently. It is also very similar to White Milkwort (Polygala alba), which is not present in MN but is just to our west and south on the Great Plains, has flower clusters up to 3 inches long, leaves are rarely more than 1 inch long, and the lowest 1 or 2 leaf nodes usually have whorled leaves. Note that several references state P. senega leaves often appear minutely toothed, but we have not observed this in Minnesota populations.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Pope and Ramsey counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Blue Earth and Pope counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?