Fat False Solomon’s Seal

Fat False Solomon’s Seal © DSchiel

Feathery False Lily-of-the-Valley, Solomon’s Plume
Maianthemum racemosum
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

  • Monocotyledon
    • Monocots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Butcher’s Broom Family (Ruscaceae)
  • Perennial herb
    • Grows from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems); often forms colonies
  • Stems unbranched, erect or arching, zig-zagging near the tip
  • Leaves
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
    • Ovate to oblong-elliptic, with smooth edges (entire), which are sometimes wavy
    • Prominent parallel veins
    • Clasping the stem (sessile)
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a tight panicle (branching stem with flowers opening from the bottom up), growing from the plant’s tip, of many small, creamy-white, fluffy-looking flowers
    • Each radially-symmetrical flower has 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), in 2 separate whorls, similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
      • 6 prominent, thick stamens (male flower parts) are longer than the inconspicuous tepals
    • Fragrant
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall), initially yellow with red speckles, maturing to red with purple-speckles
  • Height 12-35 in.
Fruit © KKorbholz

Distribution

  • Native to California
    • Grows in moist woodlands and along stream banks
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, found across North America, from Canada to the United States, south into Mexico and Central America
  • Grows at elevations to 6,500 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Flowers pollinated by bees, flies, and beetles
  • Fruit eaten by numerous bird species, as well as small rodents
  • Native people ate the fruit and used a decoction of leaves as a contraceptive
  • CAUTION – berries are edible, but large quantities have a laxative effect

Name Derivation

  • Maianthemum (my-AN-the-mum) – from the Greek for “May flower,” referring to its blooming season
  • racemosum (ray-sem-OH-sum) – meaning “with flowers in racemes,” a seeming contradiction since the inflorescence is a panicle; however, a panicle can be described as a compound raceme
  • Fat false Solomon’s seal
    • False Solomon’s seal – derives from the similarity of the leaves to the “true” Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum species; see below)
    • Fat – due to the many fluffy-looking flowers in the plume-like flower cluster and/or the leaves, which are wider than those of slim false Solomon’s seal (M. stellata)
Flower of Fat False Solomon’s Seal © DSchiel
Flower of Slim False Solomon’s Seal © DSchiel

Notes

  • Geophytes, e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, are adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
    • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
  • Fat false Solomon’s seal has seen several changes in taxonomy
    • Previously listed in Lily family
    • Genus name changed from Smilacina to Maianthemum
  • “True” Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum species) does not grow natively in the Western states
    • Bell-like flowers hang in clusters from the leaf stalk
    • Berries are poisonous
    • Common name usually explained as referring to the large, circular seals (leaf stalk scars) on the rhizomes (Missouri)
  • Host to the fungus-like microorganism Phytophthora ramorum, which causes Sudden Oak Death (SOD)

ID Tips

Slim False Solomon’s SealFat False Solomon’s Seal
Leavesnarrow (slim)wide (fat)
Inflorescenceraceme¹

5-15 flowers, widely spaced
panicle²

 > 20 flowers, densely packed
Individual Flowers
       Appearancestarlikefluffy
       Tepalsconspicuousinconspicuous
       Stamensshorter than tepals

less stout
longer than tepals

more stout
       Fragrancenoyes
Fruitred-striped to redred-speckled to red
¹ Raceme – unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up
² Panicle – branching stem with flowers opening from the bottom up

At Edgewood

  • Found in woodlands
    • Found on the Sylvan trail, often side by side with slim false Solomon’s seal, in an area known as “Rose Alley,” just beyond the waterfall
    • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant
  • Flowers March – May

See General References

Specific References

Laws, J.M. 2019. Sierra Wildflowers: A Hiker’s Guide. Heyday Books, Berkeley, California.

Lawther, J. 2013. Virtual Nature Trail at Penn State New Kensington. False Solomon’s Seal.

Missouri Botanical Garden. Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’.

North Carolina Native Plant Society (NCNPS). 2017. Plant Details: Maianthemum racemosum.