Growing and caring for Polygala myrtifolia

Today we bring a shrub or small tree from the Mediterranean garden called Polygala myrtifolia . A small-medium size, adjusted to relatively small spaces and with an abundant flowering and a very long duration in the year with very light care.


Native to South Africa, this shrub from the Polygalaceae family is relatively easy to maintain, working well both in pot and in soil. Its evergreen leaves and especially its spectacular flowering are very attractive, which is why it is highly appreciated as an ornamental plant.

This plant is commonly known as poligala or cape milkmaid since its name of Greek origin means a lot of milk and it was formerly believed that by feeding this plant to cattle, they produced more milk.


This showy and hardy evergreen plant grows wild in South Africa on rocky slopes, grasslands and even dunes. It resists very well high temperatures, drought and is even able to withstand light frosts. In Mediterranean climates it can bloom practically all year round. In fact, although it is native to South Africa, it is easily found in a temperate and Mediterranean climate. We can also see it in areas of Australia and New Zealand.

Worldwide distribution of Polygala myrtifolia. Extracted from


The Polygala myrtifolia is a plant bearing upright with a very strong, straight, woody stem. An adult plant can reach 3 meters in height. A medium shrub is usually 1 or 1.5 m tall with a spread of 2 m.

It has dense foliage. Its leaves, of an intense light green color, are very similar to those of the myrtle , hence the myrtifolia. They are oval and usually measure about 1.3 cm. wide by 2.5 / 5 cm. long.


The most striking thing about this plant is its flowering , which in mild climates such as the Mediterranean and in full sun, can occur almost all year round, although the maximum peak of flower production occurs during spring.

The flowers sprout at the ends of the stems, grouped in inflorescences. They are very striking, in shades of purple , purple and mauve with two petals that open like the wings of a butterfly.

The fruit is a small winged and dehiscent capsule (it opens spontaneously to spread the seeds), it is oval and brown in color.


Given its great ornamental value and resistance, it is a plant that can be planted alone in large pots or in gardens, both to create hedges or clumps, as an isolated specimen giving it the shape of a sapling. Either way, it will add an elegant and colorful touch to any garden.

It is not very demanding nor does it need too complicated care for its cultivation, as long as a very bright place is provided , preferably in full sun since it is a heliophilic plant, and where temperatures are not too low or cold days are too prolonged .

Appearance of the Polygala myrtifolia shrub Photo from Wikimedia commons


As mentioned at the beginning, it supports drought very well and although it can withstand light frosts it is much more tolerant to high temperatures . According to the USDA Hardiness zone it supports temperatures of up to -2ºC not very often during the winter. The exposure to the sun must be total. It needs a lot of light.


If we place it in a garden, the soil should preferably be neutral . Withstands slightly acid soles. The pH range is between 6.5 and 7.5. In the case of not having this type of soil, it can be corrected by making a hole of approximately half a cubic meter that will be filled with a universal substrate . This same substrate is suitable if we grow it in a pot.

Whatever the location of the plant, we must give an extra supply of nutrients to the substrate every three weeks, especially during the warmer months, from the beginning of spring to the end of summer, the time of maximum development of the plant. For this we can use a liquid fertilizer , specific for flower shrubs, mixed with the irrigation water or a slow-release granulate spread on the substrate. Organic fertilizers such as guano or mulch can also be used.

Ecological Fertilizers – Ecological Fertilizer Batlle 1250ml – Batlle

  • Ecological Fertilizer Batlle is a 100% natural nutrient complex, obtained from beet molasses and sugar cane, usable in organic farming, which has a high proportion of organic matter
  • together with amino acids and nutrients that promote a rapid biostimulant action to the plant, being its easy and fast assimilation, to show the results in a very short time
  • Usable on all types of plants and in all conditions, indoors, on the terrace, orchard and garden. Composition: 8UF of nitrogen, 12% free amino acids, 58% of potassium oxide. Ecological certificate by the CAAE with number FE-001-0156
  • Dose: Apply as root fertilizer, diluting 5 ml of fertilizer per liter of water


Polygala myrtifolia resists drought quite well, but to keep it healthy and with abundant flowering, frequent watering is necessary during the summer months , about two or three times a week, but taking care not to flood the earth so as not to damage its roots, making special Emphasis on those that we grow in pots, since in this type of container the water consumption is higher.

In places with space such as a garden, it is a bush that grows freely and has a beautiful bearing, so pruning would not be necessary, only just enough to remove dry leaves or branches that spoil it.

But if we wish, we can resort to pruning in the case of wanting to shape the plant, leaving a single main stem and trimming the remaining branches to give it a seedling shape or leaving several stems if we want to obtain a hanging bearing. The best time for pruning is during winter .


It is a very rustic plant that is hardly affected by pests or diseases. The maximum is that the larvae of some insects feed on their leaves and the youngest stems, a problem that we can tackle by using an ecological insecticide in a preventive way .

It can also happen, when we water it excessively, cryptogamic diseases (fungi) will arise, so special care must be taken to avoid waterlogging the substrate.


As with many other species, we have two ways to obtain new specimens from another plant, through seeds or cuttings obtained from young, healthy stems during the summer. Although it is not impossible, it is not very easy to achieve it either, so if we want to quickly enjoy this plant, it is best to buy it in a nursery.

If we buy a Poligala in a nursery and we want to transplant it to a larger pot, we must do it during the spring so that the plant takes root more easily. For this we will use a substrate that is rich in organic matter and with good drainage to avoid flooding. If we transplant it directly into the soil of a garden, we must enrich it with a substrate for flower plants and in the event that the soil is too clayey, we will mix it with washed river sand to avoid caking and promote oxygenation of the roots.


Although it is not a plant especially known for having medicinal uses, in South Africa, specifically in Kwazulu-Natal, where it is from, it is known to have great antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties . There are even studies conducted by the University of Natal that demonstrate its effectiveness against the Candida albicans fungus , responsible for the annoying candidiasis.


Motsei, ML, Lindsey, KV, Van Staden, J., & Jäger, AK (2003). Screening of traditionally used South African plants for antifungal activity against Candida albicans. Journal of ethnopharmacology ,  86 (2-3), 235-241.

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