Text, photos and poetry by Donna Bollenbach. Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society
Some native flowers are greatly admired, but have yet to make it into our gardens. One is the showy Drumhead, Polygala cruciata. With a few exceptions, Drumheads are found throughout Florida. Like many members of the Polygalaceae or Milkwort family, they like moist, open habitats and are found in moist prairies, the edges of marshes, and wet pinelands.
The Drumhead is an annual. It's conical pink to lavender flowers are arranged on elliptical heads. What most people refer to as the “flower” is a composite of pink, spiky sepals surrounding a tiny yellowish white flower. As the flower fades, the sepals remain for several weeks, forming the "drumhead." While the nested sepals may give the impression of little crosses, the scientific name "cruciate" refers to the shape of the 4-angled stem. The short, linear leaves occur in whorls of 4 around the stem.
Look for Drumheads in moist open landscapes in late spring to early fall. They stand only 4 - 12 " tall, but are easily spotted because of their bright color and showy cones. All references I found indicate that this flower has yet to be cultivated for home landscapes.