Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nature Notes: Gaywings

 Not only are gaywings (Polygala paucifolia) improbably cute and small with bursts of fringe, but they also have a hidden secret.  In addition to their regular, colorful and showy flowers, gaywings have hidden, small flowers underground called "cleistogamous" flowers which self-fertilize to make seeds.  The downside of selfing is that the offspring could suffer inbreeding depression, but at least some offspring result, so it may be better than nothing.  With cool fringe on their regular flowers to lure in the bees, it's surprising they need a reproductive back-up plan, but sometimes pollinators are scarce.  Plants in this family (the Polygalaceae) tend to be rare or endemic so there may not always be other plants around to fertilize the regular flowers.  Gaywings in Georgia can be locally abundant, but they are only found in a few sites around here.
Above-ground regular flowers with fancy fringe
I made a special trip to Panther Creek Falls in Habersham Co., Georgia to see these remarkable flowers for myself.  This trail tends to be a popular place, so given my love for quiet, I'd only ever been there in winter.  But it was worth it to brave the crowds over Easter weekend to find the gaywings carpeting the forest floor in simmering lilac.
More gaywings!
In addition to gaywings, there were many other plants in bloom all along the trail. 

Showy orchis
Catesby's trillium
Toothwort (with spider)
This rhododendron attracted a pollinator.


  1. That Catesby's trillium is beautiful as is everything you shared. I am in need of a hike very soon.

  2. It's such a beautiful time of year to be out hiking-- hope you get a trip in soon. Yeah I love how the Catesby's trillium turn from white to this deep red. Such a pretty plant.