Gen. N. Amer. Pl. 2: 90. 1818.
Herbs annual or biennial, single- to multi-stemmed, (1–)2–6.5 dm, rarely branched proximalto inflorescences; from fibrous root cluster. Stems erect, glabrous. Leaves with basal rosette sometimes present at anthesis, sometimes withered or nearly so; alternate; sessile or subsessile; basal blade obovate, to 12 mm wide, cauline blade obovate, elliptic, or narrowly spatulate, sometimes becoming linear distally, 3–25 × 1–5 mm, base cuneate or acute, apex usually rounded proximally, acute to obtuse distally, surfaces glabrous. Racemes in cymose panicles, ± flat-topped, 1.5–12 × 2.5–6 cm; each stem with (3–)5–20(–40) racemose branches, 0.4–6 × 0.7–1.5 cm; central one nearly sessile, lateral ones with peduncle to 2 cm; bracts persistent, lanceolate-ovate. Pedicels winged, 0.6–1.2 mm, glabrous. Flowers usually white or cream, sometimes greenish tinged, drying white to brownish green, corolla usually becoming pale yellowish apically, 3–6 mm; sepals decurrent on pedicel, ovate, lanceolate, or linear-lanceolate, 1.6–2.5 mm; wings narrowly ovate to slightly obovate or elliptic, 2.8–4.8 × 0.9–1.7 mm, apex narrowing into apical cusp, 0.6–0.8 mm; keel 2–4 mm, crest 2-parted, with 3 2-fid (rarely entire) lobes on each side. Capsules depressed-suborbicular, 0.6–1 × 0.8–1.2 mm, margins not winged. Seeds 0.5–1 mm, pubescent; aril 0–0.4 mm, lobes absent, reduced to minute scales, or to 1/3–2/5 length of seed. 2n = 64, 68.
Phenology: Flowering year-round.
Habitat: Bogs, marshes, prairies, wet flatwoods, coastal swales, open degraded areas.
Elevation: 0–100 m.
Ala., Fla., Ga., Miss., Tex., West Indies (Bahamas, w Cuba).
Plants from southern Florida have been recognized as var. carteri, based on their less robust stature and greener, less conspicuous inflorescences (R. R. Smith and D. B. Ward 1976). More specifically, extremes of var. carteri have more or less elongated racemes to 6 cm, bracts usually less than 2 mm, flowers cream to greenish white, seeds more than 0.6 mm, and arils a minute scale or absent, whereas extremes of var. balduini have dense racemes to 3 cm, bracts usually more than 2 mm, flowers white, seeds less than 0.6 mm, and arils usually 0.2 mm (infrequently smaller). Such apparently distinctive features all intergrade and are not sharply geographically delineable; noting this, Smith and Ward stated that the northern limit of the variety was arbitrary.
Polygala ramosa is closely related to P. balduini, despite the obvious contrast between the yellow-flowered (green when dry), loosely branched inflorescences of P. ramosa and the white or near-white, more compact inflorescences of P. balduini. Hybrids occur and have been called P. balduini var. chlorogena Torrey & A. Gray.