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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Wild Sweet-william is found in scattered locations across most areas of the state, except the interior Adirondack Mountains.
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.
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).
This species is most easily identified when in flower.
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.
Wild Sweet-William flowers from mid-June to mid-July.
The time of year you would expect to find Wild Sweet William flowering and fruiting in New York.
Wild Sweet William
Phlox maculata ssp. maculata None
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Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.
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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/).
Information for this guide was last updated on: August 28, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2022. Online Conservation Guide for Phlox maculata ssp. maculata. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/wild-sweet-william/. Accessed September 29, 2022.