Posted: April 20, 2017
Solomon’s Seal and False Solomon’s Seal; these two plants, being closely related, are often confused because they share a common name, and many traits.
Solomon’s Seal, with over 70 identified species, grows in the Northern Hemisphere. Examples can be found natively in Asia, Europe and North America. Solomon’s Seal grows in every state except Hawaii, and in all of Canada.
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is an often-overlooked native plant. This shade-loving perennial with pinnately compound leaves is usually grown for its graceful foliage. Its small pairs of white bell shaped flowers appear to drip down, hanging below the leaf axils of the arching stem. They are said to release a delicate fragrance, and that is where you might see a connection to their relative the lily of the valley. After flowering in early summer this plant sets fruit, producing small round black berries, each containing 3-4 seeds
False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum (previously Smilacina)racemosa, another native plant to U.S. and Canada, is often confused with Solomon’s Seal. The easiest way to tell the difference is during bloom time. False Solomon’s Seal has a plume of tiny white flowers that appear on the ends of the leaf brackets. These produce small round green fruits that ripen to red in late summer which dangle from the terminal end of the stem. The berries are consumed by a variety of birds, like the ruffed grouse as well as other creatures like the white-footed mouse. These animals not only help the seeds to germinate and also extend their dispersal.
Both plants have similar foliage, oblong lanceolate leaves and grow about 2 feet tall, and turn yellow in the fall. Both Solomon’s Seals leaves are arranged alternating on the stem. Both plants spread via rhizomes and form small colonies. In nature they are often found growing in the rich humus soil near the bases of trees. Both species bloom in early summer,
By looking at the flower or fruit location you can quickly tell which plant you are looking at.
Growing well in shade to part shade in moderate moisture both kinds of Solomon’s Seal grow naturally throughout Pennsylvania’s woodlands. Though slow to multiply and form a colony, once established they are very dependable hardy plants.
I have a variety that has variegated foliage, Polygonatum odoratum variegatum, chosen as the Perennial Plant of the year in 2013, by the Perennial Plant Association. Its graceful green leaves edged in white show up beautifully in the shady setting of my woodland garden. Surrounded by ferns, Mayapple, dogtooth violet and trillium, it is thriving and spreading beneath a young Canada hemlock.
Either Solomon’s Seal would be at home with lungwort, ginger, hostas, coral bells, columbine, sweet woodruff and bleeding heart, which all like similar growing conditions.
With a long history of uses, both medicinal and culinary, as well as legend connecting the plant to King Solomon in the Bible, Solomon’s Seal has a rich heritage and huge following.
- Purdue University Extension
- Penn State University
- World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2014) Kew Botanical Gardens
- Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA)