Starry False Solomon's Seal is a native erect perennial that grows to 24 inches tall on an unbranched stem which has a slight zigzag. Stems are smooth, green, and may have reddish coloration near the base.
The leaves are alternate, 6 to 11 per stem, spreading or ascending, with smooth margins, parallel veins and usually folded inward from the edges toward the mid-rib. They are dark green, stalkless, sometimes clasping the stem, narrowly ovate, with a pointed tip and finely, but lightly, hairy on the underside.
The inflorescence is a raceme that is almost stalkless at the top of the stem. The raceme is narrow, about 2 to 4 inches long and has from 2 to 15 flowers.
The flowers are white, 6-parted, each only 1/3 inch wide and on a short stalk (a pedicel). The white parts are tepals (combined petals and sepals) and they spread into a distinct star shape - hence the common name. Each flower has 6 stamens with yellow anthers and a vase shaped pistil, tapering to a narrow stigma which is obscurely 3-lobed. Anthers turn reddish after the pollen matures.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a rounded 1/4 inch berry containing 1 to 6 seeds. The berry is initially green with dark stripes, but then turns dark red at maturity. The stripes denote the lobes of the original ovary.
Habitat: Starry False Solomon's Seal grows in woods, savannas, prairies and moist areas with full to partial sun and moist to slightly dry soils although it does much better in moist soils. It will grow in full shade but flower production will be minimal. The roots are stout fleshy rhizomes and these will spread to form colonies of the plant.
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 is from two Greek words, maios for May and anthemon for blossom - May blossom - which is flowering time in an average year. The species name, stellatum is commonly used for plants with 'star-like' flowers. The genus of the older scientific name, Smilacina stellata 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 name for the plant classification is as follows: First to classify was - '(L.)' which is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was updated by 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.
Comparisons: The closest confusing species would by False Solomon's Seal, M. racemosum but there the flowers are in a more branched cluster - a panicle. The common name of Solomon's Seal may also confuse with the true Solomon's Seals such as Polygonatum biflorum, but in the true Solomon's Seals the flowers are in a different arrangement.
Above: The spreading tepals of the flower represent the common name of 'starry'. The flower cluster (raceme) does not branch as it does in the False Solomon's Seal, M. racemosum. The flowers have 6 stamens and a vase shaped pistil.
Below: 1st photo - Leaf size is larger toward the base of the plant. 2nd photo - As pollen ages the anthers may turn a reddish color. 3rd photo - Stem can have a reddish coloration toward the base.
Below: The linear shaped leaves tend to fold inward toward the central vein. They may partially clasp the stem as shown here.
Below: The fruit of Starry False Solomon's Seal is a rounded 1/4 inch berry containing 1 to 6 seeds. The berry is initially green dark stripes but then turns dark red at maturity.
Notes: Starry False Solomon's Seal is indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler catalogued it on May 25, 1907 using the name in vogue at the time of Smilacina stellata. It has since been reclassified to the genus Maianthemum. It has been listed on all subsequent Garden census reports. The plant is found throughout North America with the exceptions of the southern tier of states of the U.S. from Texas east to North Carolina. Within Minnesota it is widespread with only 15 widely scattered counties not reporting the plant. There are 4 species of Maianthemum native to Minnesota. The others are: M. canadense, Canada Mayflower; M. racemosum, False Solomon's Seal; and M. trifolium, Three-leaved false Solomon's Seal. All are fairly widespread.
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.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"