Gard. Dict. ed. 8, Polygala no. 6. 1768.
Herbs annual, single-stemmed, 1.5–5 dm, unbranched or mostly branched distally (sometimes throughout); from taproot (or rarely fibrous root cluster). Stems erect, glabrous or sparsely pubescent distally, hairs incurved. Leaves alternate; sessile or petiolate, petiole to 1 mm; blade narrowly spatulate proximally to linear distally, (6–)10–20(–25) × (0.5–)1–2(–2.5) mm, base cuneate or acute, apex acute, surfaces glabrous or sparsely pubescent. Racemes capitate, (0.5–)1–3.5 × 0.6–1.1 cm; peduncle 0.2–2 cm; bracts usually deciduous, infrequently a few persistent, scattered, lanceolate-ovate. Pedicels 1.5–3.5 mm, glabrous. Flowers pink or purple, 4–5.7 mm; sepals elliptic to ovate-lanceolate, 0.8–1.8 mm; wings ovate, elliptic, or obovate, 2.5–4.5(–5.2) × 1.1–3(–3.6) mm, apex acute to obtuse, often minutely apiculate; keel 2.3–3.5(–4) mm, crest 2-parted, with2–4 lobes on each side. Capsules subglobose or ellipsoid, 1.5–2.3 × 1–2 mm, margins not winged. Seeds 0.9–1.2 mm, pubescent; aril 0.4 mm, lobes nearly vestigial to 1/3 length of seed. 2n = 34.
Phenology: Flowering spring–fall.
Habitat: Dry to moist, sandy meadows, bogs, savannas, open wet areas, open mixed pine-hardwoods.
Elevation: 0–300 m.
Ala., Ark., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ky., La., Md., Miss., N.J., N.Y., N.C., S.C., Tenn., Tex., Va.
Polygala mariana is polymorphic (for example, flower color and inflorescence and flower size); separation into discrete taxa has been unsuccessful. Some specimens resemble P. curtissii, which has persistent bracts and usually deeper pink flowers. The two species are largely allopatric, with P. mariana predominantlyon the coastal plain and P. curtissii more inland.