of 1-4 flowers. Fruit a small capsule. Flowers Apr.-June; fruits June-Sept.
Habitat/range: Moist forests at mid- to high elevations, including red oak forests, pine-oak-heath, and chestnut oak forests. Common in mountains. Primarily a northeastern species extending south in Appalachians to Georgia.
Taxonomy: This nearly cosmopolitan genus includes about 500 species of trees, shrubs, and herbs, including 7 species in the mountain and piedmont region.
Ecology: Like jewelweed, violets, and numerous other plants, fringed polygala produces 2 types of flowers—larger, showier (chasmoga-mous) flowers that attract potential pollinators and tiny (cleistogamous) flowers that never open and self-pollinate in the bud. The chasmoga-mous flowers attract bees that use the fringed central tube as a landing platform. The weight of the insect depresses the pouch and forces the anthers and stigmas through a slit at the top and into direct contact with the insect's lower abdomen, which accumulates pollen, some of which may subsequently contact a stigma, thereby promoting cross-pollination. The tiny self-pollinating flowers produce viable, if not genetically diverse, seeds. Look for cleis-togamous flowers at the base of the plant under the leaf litter.
Wildlife: Ants quickly remove ripe seeds from capsules and carry them back to their nests where they remove the food body (elaiosome) that's attached to the seed coat and feed it to their larvae. They subsequently drop the otherwise intact seed near the nest, where it can germinate and potentially establish a new plant.
Uses: This low-growing colonial plant with its highly unusual flowers adds interest to shade gardens but shouldn't be removed from the wild.
Polygonatum biflorum (Walter) Elliott
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