Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Milkwort

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Milkwort
Scientific Name:Polygala cornuta
Family:Polygalacea (Milkwort)
Plant Type:Shrub
Size:up to 2 Meters
Habitat:Riparian, Chaparral
Blooms:May to July
Fire Response:Germinate from Seed

Fish’s Milkwort - Polygala cornuta is an uncommon shrub with a preference for riparian habitats. These locations are popular with plants and many species are crowded into limited space. Fish’s milkwort lives most of the year as an anonymous member of the community. When it does bloom, you may see a small splash of color or you may not because the plant blends in well with its neighbors. If you are like me, the first time you notice this plant in bloom, you may think this is a member of the pea family. There are similarities - color & shape, closer examination reveals the differences.

Slender green stems sprawl over other shrubs and occasionally taking the form of a thicket. Shaded canyons and Southern Oak Woodlands are places to look for this plant: Cold Creek, Upper Zuma Creek, Topanga Meadows, Santa Ynez Canyon.

Flowers are solitary, red to purple, about 3/8 inch long, on 1/4 inch stem; 5 sepals, the inner two enlarged and petaloid; 3 petals attached at their bases, 2 narrow wings at sides and keel above. Eight stamens. There are additional inconspicuous, self-pollinating blossoms that remain as buds and open only when seeds are ripe. Blooms from May - July.

Leaves are not paired on the stem and instead alternate their way up or down. Leaves simple, thin, not hairy. Elliptic-oval about 1-1/4 inch long and 3/8 inch wide, on a short stem.

Polygala: from the Greek polys, "many or much," and gala, "milk," since it was thought that the presence of some of the species in a pasture increased the yield of milk.
cornuta: bearing horns or spurs, usually the flowers. is the source of this info.

Milkwort - Plant of the Month for: April
Last modified: April 14 2023 09:15:32.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People.., by Jan Timbrook
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves