Wildflower enthusiasts who are familiar with the Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum [Walter] Elliott) are probably familiar with its relative, the Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum [L.] Link). Although the leaves of both species are similar, their flowers are quite different.
Solomon’s Plume is a member of the Order Asparagales, the Family Asparagaceae, and the Subfamily Nolinoideae. Some references place it in the Order Liliales and in the Family Liliaceae, the Family Convallariaceae, or the Family Ruscaceae.
The generic name, Maiathemum, is Greek for “May blossom”. Maios or maius is “May” and anthemon is “blossom” or “flower”. The specific epithet, racemosum, is Latin for “having a raceme”, due to its flowering cluster.
Previous scientific synonyms for this plant have been Convallaria ciliata (Desfontaines) Poiret, C. racemosa L., Polygonastrum racemosum (L.) Moench, Sigillaria ciliata (Desfontaines) Rafinesque, S. multiflora Rafinesque, Smilacina ciliata Desfontaines, S. flexicaulis Wenderoth, S. latifolia Nuttall ex Baker, S. racemosa (L.) Desfontaines, Tovaria racemosa (L.) Necker ex Baker, Unifolium racemosum (L.) Britton, Vagnera australis Small, V. racemosa (L.) Morung ex Kearney, and V. retusa Rafinesque.
This plant is called False Solomon’s Seal because it was thought to have no magical properties of the real Solomon’s Seal. At different times and places, other common names for this species are Clustered Solomon’s Seal, False Lily-of-the Valley, False Solomon’s Seal, False Spikenard, Feather False Solomon’s Seal, Feather Solomon’s Seal, Goldenseal, Jacob’s Ladder, Job’s Tears, Large False Solomon’s Seal, Plumed Solomon’s Seal, Scurvy Berry, Snake Corn, Solomon’s Feathers, Solomon’s Phone, Solomon’s Zigzag, Spiked Solomon’s Seal, Spikenard, Tobacco Berry, Treacle Berry, Wild Spikenard, Wood Lily, and Zigzag Solomon’s Seal.
DESCRIPTION OF THE SOLOMON’S PLUME
Height: Its height is 1-3½ feet.
Stem: Its stem is single, unbranched, stiff, erect or arching, and slightly zigzag.
Leaves: Its leaves are simple and alternate. Each leaf is oblong, oval, elliptical, or lanceolate; bright green above and hairy below; ribbed; about 3-6 inches long and about 1-3 inches wide; and has a pointed tip and a blunt or rounded base. The leaves are sessile and may not clasp the stem. Its margin is entire and undulating. Its veins are broadly parallel and deeply etched. White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) eat the foliage.
Flowers: Its flowers are arranged in a branched, terminal, flat, feathery, pyramidal, and panicled 1-6 inch long cluster of 7-250 tiny flowers. Each flower is radially symmetrical; star-shaped; about 1/8-¼ inches long; about 1/6 inches wide; creamy white; and fragrant. It has 3 petals, 3 sepals, 6 stamens that are longer than the tepals, and 1 pistil. All flowering parts are attached at the base of the ovary. Bees (Superfamily Apoidea), Flies (Order Diptera), and Beetles (Order Coleoptera) pollinate these flowers. Their blooming period is 3 weeks. Flowering season is April to July.
Fruit: Its fruit is a rounded berry with 1-2 seeds. When young, the berry is yellow-green or whitish with red or brown spots. It later becomes a dull, translucent red with purple spots. Each berry has 3 chambers with 1-2 seeds per chamber. The seeds are roundish and slightly wrinkled. Some of the seeds are produced without fertilization but are genetically identical to the parent plant. Birds (Class Aves) and small Mammals (Class Mammalia) eat these berries and help spread the seeds.
Roots: Its root system consists of stout, thick, cylindrical, creeping, fleshy, light brown, knotty, and elongated rhizomes with secondary fibrous roots.
Habitat: Its habitats consist of moist, rich deciduous or mixed woods; thickets; floodplains; stream banks; savannas; clearings; and roadsides. They may be found in large patches.
Range: Its range covers Canada and the U.S. as far west as the Rocky Mountains.
Solomon’s Plume has several medicinal uses. It was used as an anti-hemorrhagic, an analgesic, an anthelmintic, a diaphoretic, a diuretic, a purgative, a sedative, a stimulant, and a tonic. A root tea was used for treating constipation, rheumatism, and stomach trouble. A leaf tea was used as a contraceptive and for treating coughs. The root smoke was inhaled for treating insanity and to induce sleep. A root poultice was used for treating sunburns. A leaf poultice was used for bleeding, itching, and rashes. This plant was also used for treating aches and pains, cuts, colds, headaches, heart trouble, itching, kidney ailments, snakebites, sore throat, and swelling.
Solomon’s Plume has some edible uses as well. The rootstock is edible but bitter. It should be boiled in several changes of water or soaked overnight in wood ash lye mixture of ½-¾ cups of ash to 1 gallon of water. Afterwards, they are parboiled for ½ hour to remove the lye. It can be pickled and used as relish or eaten like a potato. The young shoots can be boiled in salt water for 10 minutes and eaten like asparagus. The berries are also edible. They taste like treacle, a bitter English molasses, and contain vitamin C. They were once used for treating scurvy. However, they are cathartic if consumed in large amounts.
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