Wild Sweet William

Phlox maculata ssp. maculata None

Phlox maculata
Stephen M. Young

Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family)
State Protection
Listed as Threatened by New York State: likely to become Endangered in the foreseeable future. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Imperiled in New York - Very vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors; typically 6 to 20 populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Apparently or Demonstrably Secure globally - The subspecies/variety is uncommon to common in the world, but not rare; usually widespread, but may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors. More information is needed to assign either T4 or T5. (The species as a whole is common globally.)


Did you know?

The common name is based on the flower's supposed resemblance to the popular garden flower Sweet-william (Dianthus barbatus), an unrelated species native to Europe. Which "William" it refers to is uncertain, though it may be after the Duke of Cumberland, for his victory over the Scots in the Battle of Culloden. The Scots call the same flower "Stinking Billy" (Wikipedia, accessed 4/25/2008). "Maculata" means spotted, and refers to the purplish blotches on the stems.

State Ranking Justification

There are 8 existing occurrences in the state, and 16 historical occurrences. Half of the verified occurences have 100 plants or less, and some populations appear to be declining.

Short-term Trends

Four "new" populations have been discovered since 1999, which may be either an upward trend or simply an artifact of more survey work. Some populations have declined in recent years, possibly due to mowing, but more data are needed to assess short-term trends across the state.

Long-term Trends

There are at least 16 historical occurrences, and only 8 known existing ones. The species may have declined as open wetland habitats have become more scarce more historical occurrences need to be checked and more work is needed in the Tug Hill.

Conservation and Management


Mowing is a threat to some roadside populations; however, succession is also a long-term threat, as this species requires at least partially open habitat.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Mowing or grazing to maintain open habitats could benefit this species if it were done after the growing season.



In New York this species has been found at open or shrubby wet sites, including fens, wet meadows, shrub swamps, cattail marshes, and roadside seeps and wet thickets (New York Natural Heritage Program 2008). Low woods, wet meadows, stream banks (Haines 1998). Low woods and wet meadows (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Very rare and local in fens and other wet places (Voss 1996).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Medium fen (guide)
    A wetland fed by water from springs and seeps. These waters are slightly acidic (pH values generally range from 4.5 to 6.5) and contain some dissolved minerals. Plant remains in these fens do not decompose rapidly and thus the plants in these fens usually grow on older, undecomposed plant parts of woody material, grasses, and mosses.
  • Sedge meadow (guide)
    A wet meadow community that has organic soils (muck or fibrous peat). Soils are permanently saturated and seasonally flooded. The dominant herbs must be members of the sedge family, typically of the genus Carex.
  • Shrub swamp (guide)
    An inland wetland dominated by tall shrubs that occurs along the shore of a lake or river, in a wet depression or valley not associated with lakes, or as a transition zone between a marsh, fen, or bog and a swamp or upland community. Shrub swamps are very common and quite variable.

Associated Species

  • Angelica atropurpurea (purple-stemmed angelica)
  • Calamagrostis canadensis
  • Carex flava (yellow sedge)
  • Carex interior (inland sedge)
  • Carex sparganioides (bur-reed sedge)
  • Cornus amomum
  • Cornus sericea (red-osier dogwood)
  • Equisetum fluviatile (river horsetail)
  • Geum rivale (purple avens, water avens)
  • Glyceria grandis
  • Holcus lanatus (velvet grass)
  • Juncus spp.
  • Packera aurea (golden ragwort)
  • Platanthera dilatata
  • Polemonium vanbruntiae (Van Brunt's Jacob's-ladder)
  • Solidago rugosa
  • Spiraea alba
  • Viburnum recognitum


New York State Distribution

Wild Sweet-william is found in scattered locations across most areas of the state, except the interior Adirondack Mountains.

Global Distribution

The species is found in Quebec, Ontario, Minnesota, and Iowa, and in all of the states east of the Mississippi excluding Wisconsin, Florida, South Carolina, and New Hampshire.

Identification Comments

General Description

Wild Sweet-william is a perennial wildflower with smooth, erect stems, often with purple spots or streaks, growing up to 80 cm tall. The leaves are in opposite pairs, 5 to 12 cm long, with prominent white midribs, and are lance-shaped, ending in a fine point. The infloresence consists of several branches on short stalks (peduncles), forming a crowded, sub-cylindric cluster. The corolla forms a long, thin tube, separating into 5 wedged-shaped petals, each 12 to 22 mm wide. The flower color ranges from white to more often red-purple (Gleason and Cronquist 1991).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

This species is most easily identified when in flower.

Similar Species

Three similar looking Phlox are present in New York: P. divaricata, P. paniculata, and P. pilosa. Phlox divaricata and P. pilosa both have a style which is shorter than or barely equal to the stigma or ovary and the cymes are loose and open, usually the 2 lowest branches are 1 cm or more. Phlox paniculata has veiny leaves with a submarginal connecting vein, and ciliolate leaf margins.

Best Time to See

Wild Sweet-William flowers from mid-June to mid-July.

  • Flowering
  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Wild Sweet William flowering and fruiting in New York.

Wild Sweet William Images


Wild Sweet William
Phlox maculata ssp. maculata None

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Anthophyta
      • Class Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
        • Order Solanales
          • Family Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family)


  • Phlox maculata var. candida Michx.

Additional Resources


Edinger, Gregory J., D.J. Evans, Shane Gebauer, Timothy G. Howard, David M. Hunt, and Adele M. Olivero (editors). 2002. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke's Ecological Communities of New York State. (Draft for review). New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 136 pp.

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Haines, A. and T.F. Vining. 1998. Flora of Maine, A Manual for Identification of Native and Naturalized Vascular Plants of Maine. V.F.Thomas Co., Bar Harbor, Maine.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Newcomb, Lawrence. 1977. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide: An Ingenious New Key System for Quick, Positive Field Identification of the Wildflowers, Flowering Shrubs, and Vines of Northeastern and North-Central North America. Little, Brown and Company. Boston.

Voss, Edward G. 1996. Michigan Flora Part III. Dicots Concluded (Pyrolaceae - Compositae). Cranbrook Institute of Science Bulletin 61 and University of Michigan Herbarium. 622 pp.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research http://www.fccdr.usf.edu/. University of South Florida http://www.usf.edu/]. New York Flora Association http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/, Albany, New York

Weldy, Troy W. and David Werier. 2005. New York Flora Atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research. University of South Florida]. New York Flora Association, Albany, NY. Available on the web at (http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/).


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: August 28, 2019

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Phlox maculata ssp. maculata. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/wild-sweet-william/. Accessed June 23, 2024.