November 2008

Polygala chamaebuxus.

Text and photographs by Bob Mitchell
     The box-leaved milkwort, Polygala chamaebuxus was named by Linnaeus in 1753. It is one of a large genus of plants ranging from our native, prostrate Polgyala vulgaris and P. serpyllifolia, to the tall, South African shrub, Polygala myrtifolia in the glass range. Polygala is found worldwide, except New Zealand. There are 325 species, of which 33 are native to Europe.
     Polygala chamaebuxus comes from the mountains of west-central Europe where it grows in the higher wooded slopes and up into the pastures and rocky ledges. Polygala chamaebuxus was known in cultivation about 1658 and was illustrated by Clusius. It was later collected by Thomas Blaikie from Corstorphine in Switzerland in 1775. Blaikie was employed to collect plants in the Swiss Alps by the two great amateur botanists of that period - Dr William Pitcairn from Dysart in Fife and Yorkshireman, Dr John Fothergill. Both were very successful medical men. Polygala chamaebuxus appears as number 130 of 440 collections Blaikie made and sent to Dr William Pitcairn in London in 1775. It is an excellent Rock Garden plant.
     Polygala chamaebuxus is a dwarf, evergreen, spreading shrub to 6" tall. The creamy-white flowers appear from the leaf axils and are usually in pairs. The flowers are keeled like a pea-flower but differ from legumes by the stigmatic lobes which extrude from the flower. In Polygala chamaebuxus these are bright yellow.
     There is a variety grandiflora which has purple-red and yellow flowers. This plant received an Award of Merit in 1896. In Polygala chamaebuxus 'Kamniski' the flowers are variable from white, pink, purple or yellow, and is a clonal name given to this striking plant introduced from Slovenia by Peter and Patricia Cox. 'Loibe' has purple and yellow coloured flowers. There is also a white flowered form. They all usually flowers from April to September. Polygala chamaebuxus is still in full flourish now; perhaps another sign of global warming.
Polygala chamaebuxus will grow in sunny conditions on a wide variety of well drained soils, while its variety grandiflora needs acid conditions. They are ideal Rock Garden or Peat Garden plants and will spread into compact, low growing shrubs, needing little attention.
Summer cuttings root easily. Rooted layers make life much easier still.
Our plant dates from 1973 in its original, sunny position beside the middle path at the top of the Rock Garden. Grid E4 (click for location map).