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Dwarf Milkwort

Polygala amarella

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Polygalaceae (Milkwort)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
20 centimetres tall
Beaches, cliffs, grassland, mountains, riversides, rocky places, sand dunes, seaside, waterside.

Blue, 3 petals
The inflorescence is a compact flower spike. The flowers are bell-shaped and either blue or pink (north UK).
The fruits are capsules.
An annual creeping flower which is UK's smallest milkwort. The leaves are oval pointed and a basal rosette is present.
Other Names:
Bitter Milkwort, Kentish Milkwort, Yellow Milkwort, Yellow Polygala.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Polygala amarella, also known as bitter milkwort or yellow milkwort, is a species of flowering plant in the milkwort family (Polygalaceae). It is native to the southeastern United States, particularly in the coastal plain, and is known for its small, yellow flowers. The plant is typically found in sandy or rocky soils, and is known for its medicinal properties. The root of the plant has been traditionally used as a tonic, laxative and diuretic. This species is also known as "yellow milkwort" or "yellow polygala"


Dwarf Milkwort, also known as Polygala amarella, is a beautiful plant species that belongs to the Polygalaceae family. It is a small, herbaceous perennial that is native to Europe and Asia. The plant is characterized by its bright blue flowers, which bloom from May to August, and its small size, which rarely exceeds 20 cm in height.

Dwarf Milkwort is commonly found growing in dry, rocky places such as meadows, heaths, and sand dunes. The plant prefers well-drained soil and can tolerate full sun to partial shade. In its natural habitat, Dwarf Milkwort plays an important role in supporting biodiversity by providing food and shelter for a variety of insects, birds, and small mammals.

The flowers of Dwarf Milkwort are the most distinctive feature of the plant. They are small, with a diameter of around 5mm, and have a striking blue-purple color that is sure to catch the eye. The flowers are arranged in dense clusters along the stem, and each individual flower has a unique shape with a distinctive "beak" protruding from the center.

In addition to its visual appeal, Dwarf Milkwort has also been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The plant contains several compounds that are believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections, digestive problems, and skin conditions.

Despite its many benefits, Dwarf Milkwort is not widely cultivated as a garden plant. This is partly due to its small size and delicate nature, which make it difficult to grow and maintain in a garden setting. However, for those with a keen interest in native plants, Dwarf Milkwort can be a rewarding addition to a rock garden or wildflower meadow.

There are several different species of Polygala, and each one has its own unique features and benefits. Some species, such as Polygala vulgaris, are known for their medicinal properties and have been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. Other species, like Polygala chamaebuxus, are grown primarily as ornamental plants for their attractive foliage and delicate flowers.

One interesting feature of Dwarf Milkwort is its common name. The plant is called "milkwort" because it was once believed to increase milk production in lactating animals. This belief was likely due to the fact that the plant contains compounds similar to those found in fenugreek, which is known to promote milk production in nursing mothers.

Another interesting aspect of Dwarf Milkwort is its use in traditional folklore and mythology. In some cultures, the plant was believed to have magical properties and was used in spells and incantations. In Nordic mythology, Dwarf Milkwort was associated with the goddess Frigg, who was said to have used the plant to increase her power and influence.

Despite its small size, Dwarf Milkwort plays an important role in supporting the ecosystem in which it grows. The plant provides food and shelter for a variety of insects, including butterflies, moths, and bees, which in turn support other wildlife. Additionally, Dwarf Milkwort is able to tolerate harsh growing conditions, making it an important species in areas where other plants may struggle to survive.

In recent years, there has been growing interest in native plants and their role in supporting biodiversity. As a result, Dwarf Milkwort and other species like it are receiving more attention from gardeners, landscapers, and conservationists. By incorporating native plants into our gardens and landscapes, we can help to create more resilient and sustainable ecosystems that support a wide range of wildlife and plant species.

In addition to its medicinal properties and ecological importance, Dwarf Milkwort also has cultural significance in certain regions. For example, in Japan, the plant is known as "Kikyo" and is considered a symbol of the fall season. The blue-purple flowers are often used in traditional Japanese art and literature to evoke a sense of autumnal beauty and nostalgia.

Dwarf Milkwort is also a popular subject for nature photographers and artists. The delicate flowers and intricate foliage make for stunning images that capture the beauty of the natural world. Photographers and artists who specialize in capturing images of wildflowers often seek out Dwarf Milkwort and other Polygala species to add to their portfolios.

Unfortunately, like many other native plant species, Dwarf Milkwort is threatened by habitat loss and over-collection. In some areas, the plant has become rare or even extinct due to the destruction of its natural habitat. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore Dwarf Milkwort populations and ensure the survival of this important plant species.

One interesting aspect of Dwarf Milkwort is its role in plant-pollinator interactions. The plant is visited by a variety of insects, including bees, butterflies, and moths, which are attracted to the plant's bright blue flowers. The flowers of Dwarf Milkwort produce nectar and pollen, which provide a valuable food source for these pollinators. In return, the pollinators help to ensure the plant's reproductive success by transferring pollen between flowers.

Research has shown that Dwarf Milkwort has a unique pollination mechanism that involves a type of bee known as a "digger bee." These bees have specialized mouthparts that allow them to scrape the anthers of the flower and collect pollen, which they then carry to other flowers on the same plant. This behavior helps to ensure that the plant's pollen is not wasted and is effectively transferred to other flowers.

Dwarf Milkwort is also a popular plant for homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine that uses highly diluted substances to treat various ailments. The plant is believed to have a number of medicinal properties, including the ability to treat respiratory infections, skin conditions, and digestive problems.

In addition to its medicinal uses, Dwarf Milkwort has also been used for dyeing. The plant produces a blue dye that has been used for centuries to color wool and other textiles. The dye is obtained by boiling the plant's flowers and leaves in water, which releases the blue pigment.

Overall, Dwarf Milkwort is a fascinating and valuable plant species that offers many benefits to humans and the natural world. Its unique features and ecological importance make it a valuable addition to any garden or landscape, and its cultural and medicinal significance adds to its overall value. As we continue to learn more about this plant and its interactions with the environment, we can better appreciate its many benefits and work to protect and preserve it for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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