Maianthemum racemosum has many common names: false Solomon’s seal, Solomon’s plume, false spikenard, branched Solomon’s seal, treacleberry and feathery false lily of the valley, to list a few. As a child I originally used the name false Solomon’s seal and continue to do so today. When the roots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are cut, markings which supposedly resemble a royal seal, are visible. False Solomon’s seal does not have those marking, hence the “false”. I do not think the two plants are that similar in appearance either. Thankfully, false Solomon’s seal was plentiful in Western Pennsylvania because I destroyed many plants searching for the absent “seal” while growing up.
A member of the Lily Family, false Solomon’s seal is found throughout most of North America at low to moderate elevations. This perennial native grows in many habitats but is most prolific in partially shady woodlands with soft soils.
The arching, unbranched false Solomon’s seal stem arises from a creeping rootstock and grows from 1 to 3 feet in height. The alternate leaves have parallel veins and partially clasp the stem.
The white false Solomon’s seal flowers are arranged in a panicle (branched and maturing from the bottom up). The inflorescence is well branched and resembles a plume. The star-like flowers are short pedicled (stalked). Six petal-like tepals (structures that are neither sepals or petals) and 6 stamens form the flower. The stamens are longer than the tepals and stick up from the top of the flower.
False Solomon’s seal fruits are green berries that mature reddish with purple spotting.
The entire false Solomon’s seal plant is edible. However, it is too fibrous and bitter to really enjoy. Some Native Americans ate the rootstocks after soaking them overnight in lye. The young shoots, if stripped of their leaves and simmered in water, supposedly make a good vegetable. But since the young shoots resemble other plants that are highly toxic, identification must be positive. I will skip eating this plant.
Indigenous people used a false Solomon’s seal poultice to treat skin inflammations, stop bleeding and relieve sunburn pain. Some also believed that smoking false Solomon’s seal seeds would cure insanity.
The genus name, Maianthemum, means May flower from the Latin “maius” (May) and the Greek “anthemon” (flower). The species name comes from the Latin and means “having a raceme”. This is a bit odd since the false Solomon’s seal inflorescence is a panicle. A raceme is an unbranched inflorescence maturing from the bottom up, while a panicle is branched. The false Solomon’s seal inflorescence is branched.
A synonym for M racemosum is Smilacina racemosum.
These false Solomon’s seal were photographed in various locations: in the Dan Ryan Meadow at Ash Creek near Adin CA during May and along Fender’s Ferry Road in the Shasta Trinity National Forest and on Fox Mountain near Adin CA in June.