Fat False Solomon’s Seal

Fat False Solomon’s Seal © DSchiel

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

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


  • 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)

  • Wildlife
    • Flowers visited by bees, flies, and beetles
    • Fruit eaten by numerous bird species, as well as small rodents
  • Native people
    • Ate the fruit
    • Decoction of leaves used 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


  • Geophytes (e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, rhizomes, or enlarged taproots) are well 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)

5-15 flowers, widely spaced

 > 20 flowers, densely packed
Individual Flowers
       Stamensshorter than tepals

less stout
longer than tepals

more stout
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.

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

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