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Cleft Phlox (Phlox bifida ssp. bifida)

Life history

Species overview

Cleft Phlox (Phlox bifida ssp. bifida), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in sandy oak woodlands and open grassy areas including, lawns and cemetaries. Blooming occurs late April through late May; fruiting occurs throughout June. The optimal identification period for this species is late April through late May.

Synonyms: Phlox bifida ssp. arkansana, Phlox bifida var. bifida, Phlox bifida var. glandifera


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Main leaves mostly 15 to 40 mm; corolla lobes notched 25 to 50% their length.
  • Flower characteristics: Cymes few-flowered; corolla pale blue-violet, varying to white, 14 to 20 mm widel; petals 5, heart-shaped, notched 25 to 50% their length; style elongate.
  • Fruit characteristics: Capsule 3-locular, oblong.
  • Leaf characteristics: Leaves stiff, linear to narrowly lanceolate, 1.5 to 4 cm, single-nerved.


  • Blooming phenology: late April through late May
  • Fruiting phenology: throughout June
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late April through late May


  • Growth form: Forb-prostrate
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Quercus velutina, Amorpha canescens, Andropogon scoparius, Euphorbia corollata, Lespedeza capitata, Tradescantia ohioensis.

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 Cleft Phlox (Phlox bifida ssp. bifida). 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 Phlox bifida ssp. bifida in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5?T5?
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 sandy oak woodlands and open grassy areas including, lawns and cemetaries.
  • Soils: Dry, sandy soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Cleft Phlox. 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
Oak Opening 2

Ecological landscapes

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

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
Southeast Glacial Plains 2
Western Coulee and Ridges 3

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 broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • 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 locating landings, staging areas, or access routes in open sandy areas dominated by native grasses.

Management guidance

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

  • Maintain open to partially open canopy; avoid closed-canopy conditions.
  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).


Cleft Phlox Photo.

The flowers of cleft phlox range from pink to purple to white. The petals are notched 25-50% of their length, which is deeper than the non-native moss phlox (Phlox subulata).

Photo © John Zaborsky.

Cleft Phlox Photo.

Photo © John Zaborsky.

Cleft Phlox Photo.

Phlox bifida. Photo from Endangered Resources files.

Photo by  staff, Wisconsin DNR.

Cleft Phlox Photo.

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Cleft Phlox Photo.

Photo © John Zaborsky.

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