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Species distribution and density. Darker squares represent higher density of members of this family.

Introduction

Polygala family

Polygalaceae flowers are superficially similar to those of the pea family (Fabaceae) but the lower keeled petal usually has a tufted appendage at the tip. The family is quite widespread but absent from the extreme northern and southern areas of the world.

Distribution

The family is widespread in warm and temperate countries. In southern Africa the genus Muraltia is most common in the Western Cape, while Polygala is widespread but has higher numbers of species further north.

Number of genera in the world

80

Number of species in the world

ca. 950

Number of genera in the Flora of southern Africa region

4

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Number of species in the Flora of southern Africa region

214

Well-known southern African genera

Muraltia, Polygala, Securidaca

Growth forms

Herbs and shrubs, or rarely trees.

Habitats

Fynbos, grassveld and bushveld in a variety of habitats.

Flagship species

Polygala myrtifolia (Septemberbush; Septemberbossie [A]) occurs naturally along the southern and eastern coastal regions of South Africa, but is widely planted elsewhere. It is evergreen and flowers profusely around September but often bears flowers throughout the year. The pink flowers are very attractive and a good source of nectar for carpenter bees. Plants can be planted on their own or as a hedge, which can be pruned more than once a year. Leaves are used medicinally to treat gout.

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Significance of the family

A number of Polygala species are used medicinally (e.g. P. fruticosa and P. virgata) for various ailments. Medicinally it is used for respiratory problems, as an anti-inflammatory and a wide variety of other ailments. An overdose can be potentially fatal. A curious member of the family, Securidaca longipedunculata (violet tree; krinkhout [A]), grows into a handsome tree of up to 7 m tall. It has large pink flowers without the characteristic tufted keel and a single-seeded fruit with a single long wing. It makes an attractive garden subject.

Diagnostic characters

Leaves alternate, simple, entire . Flowers irregular, at tip of branches ; 5 sepals, inner 2 sepals wing-like ; 3-5 petals reduced with brush-like appendage on lowest petals ; 8 stamens united into a tube and fused to the petals ; anthers opening through apical pores; ovary superior and 2-chambered; seeds covered in short hairs.

Did you know?

More than half of the species in the family belong to one genus: Polygala.