Regularity: Regularly occurring
Global Range: Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties, Florida - near coast. Specimen collected by Poponoe in Collier should be checked for ID.
Polygala smallii may be distinguished from the closely related species P. nana by its more lanceolate leaves, flowers greener at anthesis and a greater seed length (1.2 mm or more in P. smallii; 0.8 mm or less in P. nana). The two species are reported to be 32 miles apart at the most proximate point, P. smallii being isolated on the slightly drier south Florida rocklands (Unpublished material in TNC files).
Catalog Number: US 955384
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): J. K. Small & J. J. Carter
Year Collected: 1903
Locality: Between Coconut Grove & Cutler, pinelands near unfinished railroad grade., Florida, United States, North America
- Possible isotype: Smith, R. R. & Ward, D. B. 1976. Sida. 6: 307.
Comments: Open grassy pineland; sandy pine rockland, scrubby flatwoods, and sandhill. Often in disturbed areas.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5
Comments: Eleven known occurrences as of 7/96.
Life History and Behavior
Genus contains ant dispersed species.
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N1 - Critically Imperiled
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: Narrowly endemic to the southern portion of Florida's Atlantic Coastal Ridge. The Florida Natural Areas Inventory's database currently contains 10 occurrence records. This species is rapidly being destroyed by conversion of its habitat to commercial and residential developments.
Comments: Rate of development very rapid in this urban area and this upland habitat highly vulnerable.
Biological Research Needs: Additional support for recognition as species.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Polygala smallii is a rare species of flowering plant in the milkwort family known by the common name tiny polygala, or tiny milkwort. It is endemic to Florida in the United States, where it is limited to the southeastern coast of the peninsula. The plant is now only known from eight sites, with most individuals located on one site in Miami-Dade County. The species is threatened by the loss of its habitat. This is a federally listed endangered species of the United States.
The plant is a petite biennial herb growing 2 to 4 centimeters tall from the top of its taproot. The leaves are spatula-shaped and form a rosette at the base of the stems. They are closely packed and measure up to about 3.5 centimeters in length. The top of each stem is occupied by a short inflorescence of yellow-green flowers. The inflorescence often does not exceed the length of the leaf rosette. The plants have an aboveground lifespan of about 180 days, after which they disappear until the next wildfire sweeps the area.
This plant grows in Florida scrub and pine rockland habitat in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, and Martin Counties in Florida. It occurs on public property occupied by Zoo Miami and adjacent United States Coast Guard property. 10,000 plants have been counted at the latter site, the largest population of the plant. It has been noted at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport in a preserve established there for the gopher tortoise. The species has a cyclic life cycle and may exist at sites where it has not been seen recently.
The habitat occupied by this plant is maintained by a natural fire regime. Fire helps the plant by removing competing plants. It requires open spaces with sunlight and tolerates disturbance, and it resprouts readily after wildfire has affected the habitat. At times, it has been positively affected by the disturbance created during hurricanes. The long-term practice of fire suppression in the region has allowed the plant's habitat to become overgrown with large and woody vegetation. Habitat conservation must involve periodic prescribed burns or another method of opening the overgrown canopy. Fire is also beneficial because it may trigger germination of the seeds: experiments showed 50% more germination and faster germination in seeds that had been exposed to smoke. Seeds persist in a soil seed bank until they are prompted to germinate.
Another main threat to the species is the outright consumption of its habitat for the construction of residential and commercial real estate.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Polygala arenicola Small is a synonym, not the same as Polygala arenicola Guerke (see Kartesz, 1994 checklist). Distinct species; relegated to P. nana by Long and Lakela (1971) but see FCREPA (Ward 1979).
To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!