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Phenology Report: Gaywings flowers prove difficult to straighten out

A tube-shaped flower flanked by two wing-like petals blooms at Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin, on June 21, 2010.
Nathan Mayer via Flickr
A gaywings flower blooms in Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin, on June 21, 2010.

KAXE Staff Phenologist John Latimer provides his weekly assessment of nature in Northern Minnesota. This is the week of June 4, 2024.

This week, John introduced us to Polygaloides paucifolia, a tiny, fascinating flower better known as“gaywings.” (It has a few other names, including fringed milkwort, fringed polygala, and flowering wintergreen.)

Due to its strange shape and hard-to-count petals, it took John a while to identify this flower. In an inadvertent pun that sent me reeling, he said gaywings were "one of those plants that took me a long time to get straightened out."

A needle-tipped blue-eyed grass blooms near Collegeville, Minnesota on May 25, 2016. It is a small flower with six purple petals ending in long, pointed tips. The center is vivid yellow.
iNaturalist user eknuth
A needle-tipped blue-eyed grass blooms near Collegeville, Minnesota on May 25, 2016.

On that note, happy pride month to all who celebrate! May we all prove impossible to straighten.

Blue-eyed grasses

Some other wildflowers of note include the blue-eyed grasses. Two species common in Northern Minnesota include the needle-tipped blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium mucronatum) and the mountain blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium montanum). They can be distinguished by the sharp tips on the petals of the aptly named needle-tipped blue-eyed grasses; mountain blue-eyed grass petals have a much less prominent point.

In southern Minnesota, the prairie blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) is more common.

A water arum blooms in a wet area of Theodore Wirth Regional Park in Minneapolis on May 21, 2020. It has lush green foliage and a bright white modified leaf wrapped around the base of a pale yellow, pillar-shaped spadix. The sides of the spadix are covered in little green nubs.
Amy Shaunette via iNaturalist
A water arum blooms in a wet area of Theodore Wirth Regional Park in Minneapolis on May 21, 2020.

Water arum (aka the calla lily or marsh calla)

Next up is the water arum, a water-loving flower with a strange shape. Like the Jack-in-the-pulpit, this flower has a modified leaf, called a spathe, wrapped around a central pillar, called the spadix. The spadix bears the reproductive portions of the flower.

That’s where the similarities end, however. The water arum’s spathe is bright white and only wraps around the base of the spadix, which is a pale yellow. You may see splashes of these white flowers blooming along wet roadside ditches or in wetlands.


  • Introduction (0:00-0:49) 
  • Spring ephemerals and other early wildflowers (0:49-13:38) 
  • A record-breaking winter followed by an average spring (2:36-3:09) 
  • Animals 
    • Bald Eagle nest update (13:38-14:13) 
    • Frogs (14:13-15:12) 
    • Nesting turtles (15:12-16:29) 
    • Butterflies (16:34-17:28) 
    • Dragonflies (17:28-18:51) 
    • Fireflies (18:51-19:16) 
  • Conclusion (19:16-21:12) 

What have you found out there? Let us know - text us at 218-326-1234 or send us an email at

That does it for this week! For more phenology, subscribe to our Season Watch Newsletter or visit the Season Watch Facebook page.

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

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Charlie Mitchell (she/they) joined KAXE in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, produces the Phenology Talkbacks show, coordinates the Phenology in the Classroom program, and writes nature-related stories for KAXE's website. Essentailly, Charlie is John Latimer's faithful sidekick and makes sure all of KAXE's nature/phenology programs find a second life online and in podcast form.<br/><br/><br/>With a background in ecology and evolutionary biology, Charlie enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, or the star-nosed mole. (Fun fact: Moles store fat in their tails, so they don't outgrow their tunnels every time conditions are good.)