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Pink Milkwort (Polygala incarnata)

Life history

Species overview

Pink Milkwort (Polygala incarnata), a Wisconsin Endangered plant, is found in wet-mesic to dry-mesic prairies. Blooming occurs early July through early August; fruiting occurs early August through early November. The optimal identification period for this species is early August through early November.

Synonyms: Galypola incarnata


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Corolla 7 to 10 mm, more than twice as long as the wings; spike very dense.
  • Flower characteristics: Racemes dense, 1 to 4 cm long by 10 to 15 mm wide; flowers pale rose-purple, 7 to 10 mm, promptly deciduous after peak flowering; corolla more than twice as long as the wings.
  • Fruit characteristics: Seeds hairy, 2 mm.
  • Leaf characteristics: Alternate, erect or ascending, linear, 5 to 12 mm.


  • Blooming phenology: early July through early August
  • Fruiting phenology: early August through early November
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is early August through early November


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Annual
  • Comments: Associated Species: Amorpha canescens, Eryngium yuccifolium, Stipa spartea, Baptisia leucophaea, Coreopsis palmata.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Pink Milkwort (Polygala incarnata). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Polygala incarnata in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in wet-mesic to dry-mesic prairies.
  • Soils: Moist to dry soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Pink Milkwort. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Wet-mesic Prairie 2
Dry Prairie 1
Dry-mesic Prairie 2
Mesic Prairie 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Pink Milkwort. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Maintain and restore open habitat through selective clearing and brushing.
  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).


Pink Milkwort Photo.

Photo © Tom Mitchell.

Pink Milkwort Photo.

Photo by  staff, Wisconsin DNR.

Pink Milkwort Photo.

Polygala incarnata.

Photo by  staff, Wisconsin DNR.

Pink Milkwort Photo.

Polygala incarnata.

Photo © G. Eldred.

Pink Milkwort Photo.

Polygala incarnata

Photo © Suzan Campbell.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition