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This is the first year we’ve observed Western Solomon’s Seal on the property.  It’s difficult to find some of the smaller specimens lurking amidst the Western Sword Ferns, Redwood Sorrel, Anemone and Trillium.  Perhaps we simply overlooked it previously.  However, many of the areas where it is emerging this spring were cleared of dense thickets of blackberry vines just before the winter rains set in.

Western Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum ssp. amplexicaule)

Maianthemum racemosum ssp. amplexicaule (previously Smilacina racemosa) is a tall rhizomatous native perennial commonly found in shaded deciduous woodland, from California to British Columbia, and east to the Rockies.  This Maianthemum subspecies (from the Greek maios, meaning May, and anthemon, meaning flower) is commonly known as Western or False Solomon’s Seal, or Feathery False Lily of the Valley.

Western or False Solomon's Seal

This plant typically grows between 60-90 cm tall, with alternate, oblong-lanceolate leaves that range from 7-15 cm long and 3-6 cm broad, with subtle parallel veins.

Leaves of Western Solomon's Seal alternate along the length of the stem

New leaves emerging at the branch tip

Resting on a Maianthemum leaf

The fragrant white flowers emerge in dense panicles at the terminus of each stem, unlike true Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum) where the flowers form at each leaf axilla.

Flower buds just forming at the terminus of the stem

Western Solomon's Seal Flower Buds

Western Solomon's Seal

Maianthemum’s flowers consist of 6 tepals, 6 stamens, and a central pistil.

Flowers open from the base toward the tip

 

The flowers consist of 6 tepals, 6 stamens, and a central pistil

In late summer the flowers give way to clusters of red round berries that are apparently favored by wildlife.  As such, between the deer and bunnies here, I wonder if we’ll ever see them.  Although so far, miraculously, the plants seem untouched.

Fruits of Western Solomon's Seal (image courtesy of Walter Siegmund - Wikimedia Commons)

Native American uses of this subspecies include utilization by the Karok of the roots as a pediatric and dermatologic aid, and the Tewa are documented as eating the ripe berries. [1]

False Solomon’s Seal may be found in some native plant nurseries.  Like true Solomon’s Seal, this plant prefers dappled light, tolerating more sun close to the coast, and moist, well-drained soils.  I had tried to grow true Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum) many years ago in a shade garden with very limited success.  Our native species, however, seems to be thriving here this spring, and only demands that we admire it.

[1] Daniel E. Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotanical Database