Seneca snakeroot

(Polygala senega)

Conservation Status
Seneca snakeroot
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N4? - Apparently Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FACU - Facultative upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland


Seneca snakeroot is a common small wildflower. It occurs in the eastern United States and across Canada. In Minnesota it occurs in the northwest, central, and southeast regions and is mostly absent from the northeast and southwest regions. It is found in woodlands and prairies, on lake shores and river banks, along railroads and roadsides, and in other disturbed sites. It grows under full or partial sun in dry or moderately moist, loamy or rocky, often limey (calcareous) soil.

Seneca snakeroot is a 4 to 20 tall, erect or curved up from the base, perennial forb that rises on several stems from a taproot and fibrous roots. The taproot is dark brown, twisted, up to 5 (15 cm) long, and up to ½ wide. It is somewhat woody and often purplish toward the top. The rootstock spreads horizontally and usually has a cluster of several to many stems rising from it.

The stems are erect, round, unbranched, yellowish- or whitish-green, and often reddish-purple near the base. They are moderately to densely covered with inconspicuous, minute, curved hairs, at least toward the top.

The leaves are alternate, to 2¾ (15 to 70 mm) long, and to 1 (4 to 35 mm) wide. They are on short, 116to (2 to 3 mm) long leaf stalks. The leaf blades are narrowly lance-shaped, narrowly egg-shaped, or narrowly oval and widest in the middle (elliptic). The upper and lower surfaces are mostly hairless but may have a very few scattered hairs. The margins have minute, sharp, closely-spaced, forward pointing teeth.

The inflorescence is a dense, spike-like, to 2 (1.5 to 5 cm) long, unbranched cluster (raceme) at the end of each stem. The central axis of the raceme is covered with minute hairs. The flowers bloom from the bottom to the top.

The flowers are about wide. There are 5 outer floral leaves (sepals), 3 petals, 8 stamens, and 1 style. The upper sepal and lower pair of sepals are small and whitish-green. The lateral pair of sepals, referred to as wings, are petal-like, white, elliptic to nearly circular, and much larger, (3.0 to 3.7 mm) long. They are cupped, completely enclosing the corolla at first, then spreading widely as the flower matures. The petals are fused into a white, hairless, (2 to 3 mm) long tube. The lower petal (appearing central and referred to as the keel) is often fringed at the tip. The stamens have yellow anthers. The stalks of the stamens (filaments) are fused together. The style has 2 lobes near the tip. The upper lobe has a cap-like stigma. The lower lobe is sterile and has a fringe of hairs.

The fruit is a 116to (2.5 to 4.2 mm) long, almost orb-shaped capsule. It is somewhat flattened and shallowly notched at the tip.




4 to 20


Flower Color




Similar Species


Dry to moist. Woodlands, prairies, lake shores, river banks, railroads, roadsides and other disturbed sites. Full or partial sun. Loamy or rocky, often calcareous soil.




May to June


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Rosanae  


Fabales (legumes, milkworts, and allies)  


Polygalaceae (milkworts)  
  Tribe Polygaleae  


Polygala (milkworts)  

Subordinate Taxa






Polygala senega var. latifolia

Polygala senega var. senega


Common Names


Seneca snakeroot

senega snakeroot















Growing upward at an angle or curving upward from the base.



A collective name for all of the petals of a flower.



Narrowly oval, broadest at the middle, narrower at both ends, with the ends being equal.



On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.



An unbranched, elongated inflorescence with stalked flowers. The flowers mature from the bottom up.



An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.

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Clustered stems rising from a single horizontally spreading rootstock

    Seneca snakeroot   Seneca snakeroot  
    Seneca snakeroot      

Single stem

    Seneca snakeroot   Seneca snakeroot  


    Seneca snakeroot   Seneca snakeroot  



  Polygala senaga SENECA SNAKEROOT
Frank Mayfield
  Polygala senaga SENECA SNAKEROOT  



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Created: 7/3/2020

Last Updated:

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