False Solomon's Seal is an erect to arching, native perennial forb. There are two subspecies - defined at bottom of the page. Stems can be up to 30+ inches long but usually half that, and have very fine hair. The stems are unbranched, arching, and appear to have a zig-zag.
Leaves are lance shaped with pointed tips, tapered bases, alternate on the stem, stalkless but not clasping, although the lowest leaves may have a short stalk. The upper surface may have very fine hair as may the leaf edge - which does not have teeth.
The inflorescence is a branched pyramid shaped cluster at the end of the stem (a panicle). Each branch of the panicle is a separate raceme structure ( a spike of stalked flowers).
Flowers: The small 1/8 inch wide flowers are 6-parted, each on a short stalk. Sepals and petals combine into 6 short white tepals. The ovary is white and globose with an obscure stigma. This is surrounded by six stamens with white filaments and yellow anthers, quite prominent, creating a starry appearance. As the tepals are quite small, most of what you see are the reproductive parts.
The fruits develop as green berries that turn a mottled dull red to bright translucent red in autumn, while the leaves turn yellow providing a good fall color accent to the landscape. Each berry contains 1 to 4 seeds, 2 being most common, that are yellowish, smooth, ovoid and about 4mm long. Plants can be started from the seed but will not show until the 2nd year as they need a cold moist period followed by a warm moist period followed by another cold moist period.
Habitat: False Solomon's Seal will do well in home gardens if the soil is kept slightly acidic and since it grows from horizontal thick, fleshy, creeping rhizomes it can make an interesting ground cover. It does not spread rapidly, so it is not invasive. It needs shade for most of the day.
Names: Recent work by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG III classification system) has removed this genus from the Liliaceae family and placed it in the Asparagaceae, subfamily Nolinoideae. That subfamily name is a replacement for the Ruscaceae family. The genus name Maianthemum which is made up from two Greek words, Maios for 'May' and anthemon for 'blossom' together meaning "May flower". The species name, racemosum is Latin for "having a raceme."
The genus of the older scientific name, Smilacina racemosa has been dropped and combined with Maianthemum in the late 20th century because of the genetic similarity, the similar fruits, and evidence that the 4-tepal species evolved from a 6-tepal species. That genus name change is now pretty standard but you will find many variations in listing of the family name. The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify was '(L.)' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was updated by ‘Link’ which is for Johann Heinrich Friedrich Link (1767-1851) German naturalist and botanist who succeeded Willdenow as director and curator of the Botanic Garden of Berlin, published widely and named many species. See more notes at bottom of the page as to the subspecies and the question of Family.
Comparisons: The true Solomon's Seal has flowers that hang below the leaves along the length of the stem. The most similar plant is the Starry False Solomon's Seal, Maianthemum stellatum, where the flower cluster is not branched and the flowers have a more pronounced star shape.
Above: 1st photo (and photo below) The small white flowers in a branched cluster in May. Most of what you see are the reproductive parts. 2nd & 3rd photos - The red berries appearing in autumn.
Below: 1st photo - Berries turning from green to red in August. 2nd photo - Mid-October.
Below: Each berry contains 1 to 4 seeds, 2 being most common, that are yellowish, smooth, ovoid and about 4mm long.
Below: 1st photo - The stalkless leaves of subsp. racemosum have alternate positions on the stem which shows a slight zigzag. 2nd photo - The root system with horizontal creeping rhizomes and more fibrous roots
Notes: False Solomon's Seal is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued it on May 25, 1907. Susan Wilkins added additional plants in 2012 and 2013. It is native to Minnesota and commonly found in wooded areas throughout Minnesota except for some counties in the drier SW and the far NW. It is distributed widely in the eastern half of North America, from the plains area eastward.
Additional species information: The species considered native to Minnesota is M. racemosum (L.) Link subsp. racemosum. This subspecies has leaves with tapered bases, not clasping. The other subspecies, amplexicaule, has rounded bases that clasp the stem. There is also a difference between authorities as to the family classification of this genus as explained above. There are three other species of Maianthemum found in Minnesota: M. canadense, Canadian mayflower; M. stellatum, Starry False Lily-of-the-Valley (Starry False Solomon's Seal); and M. trifolium, Three-leaf False Lily-of-the-Valley.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"