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Solomon's Seal
(Polygonatum biflorum)

by David Mindell

Solomon's SealFamily: Liliaceae (Lily)

Habitat: Dry to moist woodlands

Origin of the Name: The genus name comes from poly (many), and gonum (jointed), a reference to the jointed root. The species name, biflorum, reflects the tendency of the flowers to hang in pairs. The common name stems from King Solomon, the 10th century B.C. Israelite king knowledgeable in medicinal plants. It was believed that he placed his seal of approval on this plant.

Description: Alternate, smooth-edged pale green leaves have parallel, hairless veins. Tubular greenish-white flowers hang along the stem in clusters of 1-4, though usually 2. Flowers in June with fruit maturing September-October to a deep purple or blackish hue. Typically arched and grows to 2’. Distinct from Hairy Solomon’s Seal (P. pubescens), which has fine hairs on leaf veins, and from False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa), which flowers at the tip of the stem.

Observations: Solomon’s Seal is a joy to see as it catches the filtered light of the oak-hickory and beech-maple canopies beneath which it grows. The leaves unfurl themselves from around the emerging stem in April or May, offering a velvety texture to the woodland floor. Summer flowers dangle pendulously from the main stem, giving way to deeply colored fruit, which contrast nicely against the plant’s green backdrop.

Solomon’s Seal is simple to propagate from seed (remove the fleshy seed coat shortly after collecting it) or to transplant in bare root form following plant rescues. The tuberous roots withstand being broken or cut and will send forth a new shoot the following spring.

Medicinal Use: The root was used as an astringent and emetic. When crushed and applied externally, the root was thought to reduce swelling and discoloration from bruises. Solomon’s Seal was also used to relieve headaches when the root was boiled in water and the decoction poured on hot stones and the steam inhaled. The roots were dried and crushed to make flour by Native Americans. Spring shoots and roots are edible.

Article reprinted from the Summer 1998 issue of the Ann Arbor Wild Ones Newsletter.
Copyright © 1998 Wild Ones–Natural Landscapers, Ltd.

 

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