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Close-up of flowers
of Polygala myrtifolia. Click the image for more information about
Colorful New Tropical Evergreen for U.S.
Gardens By Alfredo Flores January 6, 2006
A showy South African evergreen known as cape milkwort could soon
brighten southern U.S. gardens with vibrant masses of year-round purple blooms.
Meerow, a plant geneticist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), is responsible for bringing the plant
to the United States for study.
When Meerow encountered the cape milkwort (Polygala myrtifolia)
in South Africa in 1997, he soon envisioned it as a welcome addition to
subtropical U.S. gardens. Its flowers form in small clusters of
inch-long blossoms at the ends of short branches. Lower buds open first, to
reveal showy purple petals beautifully marked with darker veins.
The plant flowers throughout the year, peaking in spring and summer
with profuse blooms amidst bright-green, slightly glossy, oval leaves roughly
two inches long by one-half inch wide. While the species can grow up to 12 feet
high, this particular cape milkwort--called Chapman Field--only reaches four
Meerow works at the ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station (SHRS) in Miami,
Fla. The station's mission is the conservation and genetic characterization of
Seed of P. myrtifolia was purchased from a commercial seed
company in South Africa that is licensed to collect native plants. After two
years of trial and evaluation, the SHRS researchers selected one seedling with
superior attributes. They named this particular variety Chapman Field in
acknowledgment of work done over the years at SHRS, which is located on what
used to be the U.S. Navys Chapman Airfield.
The seed population from which Chapman Field was selected originated
in a climate very similar to south Floridas, and the new variety stands
apart because of its dense foliage, heavy flowering and quick growth--just two
to three months to propagate.
Meerow worked closely with ARS horticulturalist
Ayala-Silva to add P. myrtifolia to the
National Plant Germplasm System
collection and develop this promising evergreen ornamental for distribution to
about the research in the January 2006 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.