Polygala oxyptera (Rchb.)
Polygala vulgaris reaches on average 7–35 centimetres (2.8–13.8 in) in height. The stems have many branches and are woody at the base. It has alternating pointed leaves, almost glabrous, 2 to 4 mm wide and 10 to 20 mm long. Basal leaves are spatulate, with rounded apex, while the upper leaves are lanceolate.
The flowers are gathered in long terminal inflorescences. The colour of the corolla varies between blue and violet, it can rarely occur in purple forms. The flower's outer three sepals are normally small, green and insignificant, whilst the inner two sepals are bigger. The inner sepals are usually shorter than the petals. The stalks of the eight stamens are joined together to form a tube, and united with this tube, one on either side, are two tiny petals. On the lower side of the flower lies the third petal; it too, is joined to the stamen tube, but it is larger, and fringed. The flowering period extends from May through July.
Common milkwort is quite similar to the heath milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia), but in this species the inner sepals are usually longer than the petals. The heath milkwort can be all the same colours except for white. These four possible colours account for the milkworts' Irish folk-name of 'four sisters'.
Common milkwort grows in meadows, slopes, edges of forests, heaths, sunny woods, dunes and grasslands. It is frequent in patches on calcerous grassland, from sea level up to 2200 meters.
According to Classical and Renaissance writers common milkwort was used medicinally as an infusion to increase the flow of a nursing mother's milk.
- Polygala vulgaris subsp. alpestris (Reichenb.) Rouy & Fouc. [= Polygala alpestris Reichenb. ]
- Polygala vulgaris subsp. comosa (Schkuhr) C$elak. [= Polygala comosa Schkuhr ]
- Polygala vulgaris subsp. rosea [= Polygala nicaeensis subsp. caesalpini Bubani ]
- Polygala vulgaris subsp. nicaeensis (Koch) Rouy & Fouc. [= Polygala nicaeensis Koch ]
- Polygala vulgaris subsp. calliptera (Le Grand) Rouy & Fouc. [= Polygala vulgaris subsp. calliptera L. ]
- Polygala vulgaris var. calliptera Le Grand [= Polygala vulgaris subsp. calliptera (Le Grand) Rouy & Fouc. ]
- Polygala vulgaris subsp. collina (Reichenb.) Borbás [= Polygala vulgaris subsp. collina L. ]
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- The Wild Flower Key British Isles-N.W. Europe by Francis Rose, page 132
- Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain - The Reader's Digest Association Limited, London, 2004
- Acta Plantarum