Wildflowers Monday – Little treasures

There are a few little enchanting treasures that someone hiking around Southwestern Ontario or a bit up north, could catch in flower right now. They are not hard to grow from seeds and perfect for those special places in the garden where fairies are gathering to chitchat and relax ;)

Polygala paucifolia – Fringed polygala, gaywings – A charming, dwarf woodland plant with most interesting flowers; read more

Polygala paucifolia

Polygala paucifolia

Viola nephrophylla – Northern bog violet, violete de calcaire – A small, compact, stemless violet that grows in sun to part shade, in wet places: bogs and fens, often in wet depressions in limestone barrens. Big, violet flowers and broadly ovate to kidney-shaped, hairless leaves; sometimes peacefully sharing the place with Primula mistassinica like in the image below; read more

Viola nephrophylla and Primula mistassinica

Viola nephrophylla and Primula mistassinica flowering in an alvar fracture

 None of them are difficult to grow form seeds; here it is my tw0-years old Polygala colony growing in a container with Viola nephrophylla and other little treasures:

Polygala and Viola

Polygala paucifolia (front), Viola nephrophylla, Soldanella….

A risky business – Polygala paucifolia

I think some are imagining that trying to open a business of selling wild collected seeds is a breeze – happily wandering in fields and mountains and grabbing here and there whatever comes under your eyes. Well, very far away from the truth. For example, who would think about stumbling into a massasauga rattlesnake (the only venomous snake in Ontario), while collecting Polygala paucifolia seeds!

Massasauga snake

Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus)

The timing to collect Polygala is almost impossible; the fruiting/seed setting is usually low and then the seeds are equipped with elaiosomes that ants will carry away very fast. So, there is no wonder that seeds are almost never offered and, although desirable, neither are the plants! Looking at the flowers, you understand why all this is worthwhile!

Polygala paucifolia

Polygala paucifolia

My germination trials with Polygala seeds showed that dry stored seeds in the fridge, sown in the spring germinate very well, and also the seedlings are developing very well. Seeds stored moist-cold, germinate later and in a lower percentage.

Polygala seedlings

Polygala paucifolia seedlings – germination 95%; they may look small size but remember that this is a little plant

PS. Keep your eyes wide open when hiking in the rattlesnake habitat! When moving, it makes a low rattle noise to make you aware, but when standing still it is very well camouflaged and it doesn’t rattle. They give birth to live baby-snakes, finger-size but already venomous! It is designated a species at risk in Ontario – more about it on Reptiles and Amphibians of Ontario website.

Polygala paucifolia - in the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

A yummy treat – Polygala paucifolia

One of my goals is to concentrate on the propagation of a few N. American native plants that would be as prized in our garden as any Chinese or S. American novelties. The hype of using native plants in our gardens and landscapes it always cut short by their difficulty to propagate (and by the lack of available seeds collections, of course). Whatever doesn’t fit into the profile of mass-production has been abandoned or perhaps not even tried in cultivation.

Besides serving an ornamental function, expanding into cultivation a few of the hard to find and/or propagate N. American species, would serve also a conservation purpose by maintaining and enriching the genetic material/ biodiversity through sexual propagation.Conservation through cultivation, (aka propagation) has already proved its importance in a few unfortunate cases of species extinct in the wild but saved, at least temporarily, in gardens sanctuaries.

 “No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time!” – Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

OK. Last year we were able to finally collect a few seeds of Polygala paucifolia –Gaywings or Fringed polygala This is a low growing plant found in dry to moist woods, in part shade. It flowers in May-June and the pink-purple flowers are quite unusual – they have 3 short and 2 long wing-like sepals and 3 joined petals with a frilly crest at the tip. Fruit is a capsule.  The seeds present an appendage – elaiosome, which is associated with ant dispersal – now you see where I’m going? A bit too late and the seeds are gone. The appendage contains lipids, proteins and starch, which serve as a reward for the ants. They drag the seeds to their nests to feed their youngs on elaiosomes and thus provide the service of dispersal. I bet they are very yummy!


 The germination ecology for species from Polygalaceae has not been investigated in detail. I found a study claiming that for P. paucifolia, 4 months of dry storage results in an increase in germination. Other Polygala species are known to require pre-treatments for germination. Anyway, I don’t have that many seeds, so for this year I’ll try two variants: dry storage and moist-cold stratification until sowing in the spring.

 We shall see…the seed adventure continues!

 Note:  Many spring flowers from the temperate climate rely on ants to disperse their seed  (myrmecochory – I wouldn’t try pronouncing this); from the very well known: Trillium, Hepatica, Corydalis, Dicentra…