Know Your Natives – False Solomon’s seal

False Solomon’s seal (with a comparison to Solomon’s seal)

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) of the traditional Liliaceae (Lily Family) grows in all states of the U.S. except Hawaii, as well as throughout most of Canada and in northern Mexico, with an eastern and a western subspecies recognized.  In Arkansas, false Solomon’s seal is found primarily in the highlands of the northwestern half of the state as well as in scattered nearby counties and on Crowley’s Ridge.  Its natural habitat is shaded woodlands and forests with slightly moist soil.  The plant has branched rhizomes, so that clumps often form over time.  Other common names include Solomon’s plume and false spikenard.

Unbranched, medium-green, arching stems from 2-3 feet have similarly colored, alternate, oval to elliptic leaves (Photo 1). Leaves, generally horizontal to the main stem, have very short petioles and fewer parallel major veins (as compared to Solomon’s seal), but sometimes with many secondary veins.  The stem bends at upper leaf nodes so that the upper portion is slightly zigzag.  The smooth stalk becomes ridged between upper leaves and into the inflorescence.

False Solomon’s seal blooms in mid-spring and the inflorescence, a terminal panicle (flowers on pedicels attached on secondary racemes), consists of small, creamy-white flowers (Photo 2).  The star-shaped flowers are dominated by large anthers.  Round berries are green at first and change to a complex pattern of pink/red and then to ruby red (Photo 3).

Photo 1 - Mature plants in bloom

Photo 1 – Mature false Solomon’s seal in bloom

Photo 2 - Terminal panicle

Photo 2 – Terminal panicle of false Solomon’s seal

Photo 3 – Ripening berries

Photo 3 – Ripening berries of false Solomon’s seal

Solomon’s seal (compared to false Solomon’s seal)

True Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), also of the traditional Liliaceae (Lily Family), occurs in similar habitats to false Solomon’s seal but is absent from most of the western states.  Occurrence in Arkansas by county is similar to false Solomon’s seal, but this species, which may be twice as tall as false Solomon’s seal, grows in moister soils of woods as well as along streams and in sunnier valleys.  The common name is based on the appearance of stem scars on the branching rhizomes (Photo 4).  Leaves, with many major and secondary parallel veins, are sessile and arch upward from the stem.  Solomon’s seal also blooms in mid-spring.  Two or more greenish-white, elongate, bell-shaped flowers dangle from long, thin stalks growing from the axil of each leaf along the length of the stem (Photo 5).  Round, green berries change to a dark blue with a whitish film at maturity (Photo 6).

Prior to blooming, the stem and leaf shape of both species are similar, but they can usually be determined by noting plant size, number and spacing of leaf veins, as well as attachment and angle of leaves to stem.

For gardens, both species are attractive and add variety with their interesting growth habits and texture from spring into fall.  Solomon’s seal spreads readily by rhizomes, though, and may be too aggressive for some gardens.

Photo 4 – Branched rhizome showing stem scars

Photo 4 – Branched rhizome of Solomon’s seal showing stem scars

Photo 5 – Bell-Shaped flowers hang loosely

Photo 5 – Bell-shaped flowers of Solomon’s seal

Photo 6 – Mature berries and fall foliage

Photo 6 – Mature berries and fall foliage of Solomon’s seal

(Note:  Some non-flowering bellwort (Uvularia spp.) plants are similar in appearance to non-flowering false Solomon’s seal and Solomon’s seal, possibly causing confusion.)

Photo 7 – Branched stem of a mature large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) in bloom.

Photo 7 – Branched stem of a mature large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) in bloom.

Article and pictures by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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