Polygala lewtonii - Small
Lewton's Polygala
Other English Common Names: Lewton's Milkwort
Other Common Names: Lewton's milkwort
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Polygala lewtonii Small (TSN 29345)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.150072
Element Code: PDPGL020S0
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Milkwort Family
Image 10432

© Alfred R. Schotz

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Polygalales Polygalaceae Polygala
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Polygala lewtonii
Taxonomic Comments: Distinct species, one of many in genus. One of three Polygala species which have cleistogamous flowers.
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G2G3
Global Status Last Reviewed: 16Jan2013
Global Status Last Changed: 16Jan2013
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by calculator
Rounded Global Status: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: A Florida endemic with a very narrow habitat range, which is rapidly being lost due to development and agriculture. There are approximately 100 known occurrences, scattered along portions of Florida's Central Ridge. Most sites have very few individuals.
Nation: United States
National Status: N2N3

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Florida (S2S3)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (27Apr1993)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R4 - Southeast

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Polygala lewtonii is a Florida endemic found only on the Central Florida Ridge in Highlands, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola and Polk Counties.

Number of Occurrences: 21 - 80
Number of Occurrences Comments: 39 element occurrences as of 10/2000, with at least 40 more populations known but not mapped in the Ocala National Forest and Carter Creek preserve.

Population Size Comments: Sometimes common, but usually only a few individuals at a site. Population size probably fluctuates over time.

Overall Threat Impact: High - medium
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Residential housing and citrus plantings continue to replace much of the native habitat of the Central Florida Ridge. The long-term exclusion of fire is also a problem. Off road vehicles may run over plants in some areas (Kral, 1983; Ward, 1979).

Short-term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
Short-term Trend Comments: The population of this species seems to be declining due to the rapid loss of suitable habitat to development and the long-term exclusion of fire.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: Polygala lewtonii is a Florida endemic found only on the Central Florida Ridge in Highlands, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola and Polk Counties.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States FL

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
FL Hardee (12049)*, Highlands (12055), Lake (12069), Marion (12083), Orange (12095)*, Osceola (12097), Polk (12105)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Upper St. Johns (03080101)+, Oklawaha (03080102)+, Kissimmee (03090101)+, Western Okeechobee Inflow (03090103)+*, Peace (03100101)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A perennial herb, up to to 2 dm tall, with 1 or more smooth, erect, succulent stems growing from a central crown. Leaves are alternate, small, spatula-shaped, scattered along the lower half of the stem, succulent, and possessing secretion glands. Flowers are purplish-red, no more than 4 mm long. (Based on Ward 1979, Taylor 1992.)
Technical Description: Low perennial with numerous stems arising annually from crown of small taproot. Stems glabrous, decumbent then erect, to 20 cm tall, slender but stiffish. Leaves on lower half of stems, alternate, clustered with several small ones in axil of each large one, linear - spatulate, 1.0 - 1.5 cm long. Inflorescence an erect, 1 - 5 cm long raceme on the upper third of stems. Normal flowers pink, irregular, 4 - 5 mm long; 2 lateral, wing-like petaloid sepals pink, rhombic-ovate 4 - 5 mm long; 3 petals pink, joined at base, projecting forward, largest forming fimbriate-tipped keel ca. 3.5 mm long between lateral sepals. Cleistogamous flowers on separate shoots at base of plant. Fruit an oblong capsule ca. 5 mm long, half as wide, partly enclosed by 2 persistent enlarged sepals. Seeds cylindric, ca. 3 mm long (James 1957; Kral, 1983; Small, 1933; Ward, 1979).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Polygala lewtonii is characterized by its spreading then ascending, 20 cm stems; small, almost linear yellowish or gray-green leaves in clusters; bright pink irregular flowers born February to March (and intermittently through the summer); and habitat of white sand scrub or sandhill (Kral, 1983).
Duration: BIENNIAL
Reproduction Comments: Cleistogamous (self-fertilizing) flowers found in this species insure seed production even if the normal flowers are not pollinated for some reason (Ward, 1979). Whether or not this is advantageous to survival or contributes to the evolution of this species is not known (James, 1957). Ants disperse seeds.
Ecology Comments: Lewton's polygala apparently has never been very abundant. All record localities have been very small with only one to a few individuals in any given area (Ward, 1979). These areas are always quite dry, sparsely vegetated and have much open ground. Its life history has not been reported in the literature. Polygala has been observed to occassionally invade powerline clearings or along new roads (Kral, 1983). Chasteen (unpublished report for TNC) observe P. lewtonii growing in open, disturbed ground with no real canopy overhead on land adjacent to the Tiger Creek Preserve.
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Old field, Sand/dune, Savanna, Shrubland/chaparral
Habitat Comments: Sandhills characterized by longleaf pine and low scrub oaks, including low turkey oak woods, and transitional sandhill/scrub habitats. This species occasionally inhabits powerline clearings or new roadsides.
Economic Attributes
Economically Important Genus: Y
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: 1) Preservation of the best known populations of Polygala lewtonii in Florida.

2) Determine significance of transitional sandhill/scrub habitats.

3) Fire management important in maintaining habitat. Also should be considered management in management plans of preserves or other managed areas. Implement a program of different prescribed burning schedules at Tiger Creek Preserve.

4) Monitor results of 3.

5) Research the life history and propagation of P. lewtonii.

6) Monitor (by yearly field surveys) the existing populations of P. lewtonii in Florida.

Restoration Potential: P. lewtonii seems to invade disturbed areas occasionally, provided seed sources are nearby.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: Additional central ridge uplands containing this species must be protected. Forty acres should be considered the minimum size for a scrub or sandhill preserve, but a smaller site with an exemplary population of P. lewtonii could be considered (Cooper, FNAI, pers. comm.). The site should have a fairly open canopy, some bare ground, and be large or secure enough to allow fire as a management tool.
Management Requirements: Active management is needed to maintain open areas favored by P. lewtonii. Cutting of pine and removal of competing oak scrub would tend to favor this species; prescribed burning or thinning of the overstory, as well as non-suppression of natural fires may be beneficial also (Kral, 1983).

Most of Florida's natural fires occur from June to September when lightning from thunderstorms is most abundant (Abrahamson, 1984a). Ridge sandhills burn frequently (about every 3-5 years) with low intensity to remove undergrowth below the pine canopy (Abrahamson, 1984a; Duever, 1983). Dr. Ron Myers (ABS, pers. comm. on June 20, 1984) wrote that scrub naturally burned every 20-80 years in a high intensity canopy fire that opens areas for understory species. He recommended managing for the habitat system until more is learned about individual species' requirements. He suggested varying fires both temporally and spatially rather than sticking to one set fire frequency for a particular site, as natural burning occurred whenever sufficient fuel coincided with optimum weather conditions and an ignition source. Dr. Jack Stout (UCF, pers. comm. on July 31, 1984) wrote that he thought scrub historically burned in late spring or during the winter when conditions were most dry. He felt scrub would be hard to burn during the summer rainy season. He advised having many 25 to 100 acre units of scrub at different stages in which the various scrub plants and animals could populate and reproduce.

Proper schedules for burning scrub and sandhills have not yet been developed, and certain species may have their own specific preferred fire regime. In areas where burning is not feasible, thinning or cutting of the overstory could be tried.

Monitoring Requirements: Polygala needs to be monitored on and off Tiger Creek Preserve, as its population seems to be on the decline.

Periodic field surveys of known habitats performed on a yearly schedule.

Monitoring Programs: The FNAI should be contacted for further information. David Chasteen found 4 plants in an area adjoining Tiger Creek Preserve in the spring of 1982, and Gary Schultz unsuccessfully searched for it in Polk and Highlands Cos. for the FNAI in August and September, 1983. The failure of this latter search could have been because of the lack of flowers at this time of year and the small size of the plants.
Management Research Programs: Abrahamson (1984a) recently published some data on the results of fire on Lake Wales Ridge vegetation. At Archbold Biological Station, he found that ridge species' populations are revitalized by fire but do not require fire in the sense of maintaining a fire subclimax. He states that southern ridge sandhills appear to have burned much less frequently than the sandhills of northern Florida, probably every 4 years or more. He was unable to successfully burn sand pine scrub in this study. Another article by Abrahamson (1984b) reports data on the recovery of dominant species of 4 major ridge vegetation associations but does not include any of the rare species.
Management Research Needs: Research needs to be done into the ideal habitat and management requirements of P. lewtonii. The results of different prescribed burning schedules need to be monitored. Also, its life history and propagation should be investigated.

Other knowledgeable individuals on scrub and sandhill vegetation include Dr. Jack Stout, Dr. Ron Myers, and Don Richardson. Stout is working on scrub preservation strategies in east-central Florida. Myers is studying the ecological effects of fire on Florida's sand ridges. Richardson is currently a graduate student at USF in Tampa exploring the effects of allelopathy in the Florida scrub. (FNAI is the most informed on occurrences and distribution of rare plant species in Florida.)

Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 02Aug1994
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: GARY SCHULTZ, FLFO; TNC-HO (1994); revised L.G. Chafin (2000).
Management Information Edition Date: 17Feb1986
Management Information Edition Author: GARY SCHULTZ, FLFO
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 17Feb1986
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): GARY SCHULTZ, FLFO

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Abrahamson, W.G. 1984a. Post-fire recovery of Florida Lake Wales Ridge vegetation. American J. Botany 71(1): 9-21.

  • Abrahamson, W.G. 1984b. Species response to fire on the Florida Lake Wales Ridge. American J. Botany 71(1): 35-43.

  • Duever, L.C. 1983. Natural communities of Florida's inland sand ridges. Palmetto 3(3): 1-3.

  • James, C. W. 1957. Notes on the cleistogamous species of Polygala in the southeastern United States. Rhodora 59:51-56.


  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kral, R. 1983c. A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technical Publication R8-TP2, Athens, GA. 1305 pp.


  • Radford, A.E., H.E. Ahles, and C.R. Bell. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 1183 pp.

  • Small, J.K. 1933. Manual of the southeastern flora. Two volumes. Hafner Publishing Company, New York.

  • Taylor, W.K. 1992. The guide to Florida wildflowers. Taylor Publishing, Dallas, Texas. 320 pp.

  • Taylor, Walter Kingsley. 1992. The Guide to Florida Wildflowers. Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas. 320 pp.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1998. Multi-Species Recovery Plan for the Threatened and Endangered Species of South Florida, Vol.1 (The Species), Vol.2 (Natural Communities). Technical/Agency Draft. Vero Beach, Florida.



  • Ward, D.B., ed. 1979. Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Vol. 5: Plants. Univ. Presses of Florida, Gainesville.

  • Wunderlin, R.P. 1982. Guide to the vascular plants of central Florida. Univ. Presses Florida, Gainesville. 472 pp.

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