1241 Polygonatum biflorumCommon Names: Solomon’s seal, King Solomon’s seal, small Solomon’s seal Family: Asparagaceae (asparagus Family)
The elegant Solomon’s seal is a shade-loving woodland herb that spreads along the forest floor from underground rhizomes. The rhizomes are white and characteristically “knotty” looking, with large circular “seals” where previous years’ stems had grown. Above ground, the plant has an upright, arching stem that is unbranched and 2-3 ft (60-90 cm) long. The stem bears alternate lance-shaped leaves around 4 or 5 in (10 or 13 cm) long. The leaves have conspicuous parallel veins, and are pale green, turning a soft brownish yellow in fall. In late spring Solomon’s seal produces little greenish-yellowish-whitish flowers that dangle from the leaf axils, either individually or in pairs. They are tubular-bell shaped and little more than a half inch (13 mm) long. Spherical bluish black fruits (inedible) less than a half inch (13 mm) in diameter follow in late summer.
Polygonatum biflorum occurs naturally in eastern North America from Quebec south to Central Florida and west to the Mississippi Valley, with numerous scattered and isolated populations as far west as Montana and New Mexico.
Light: Solomon’s seal thrives in the partial shade of a woodland setting, and tolerates even full shade. Moisture: A fertile, humus-rich soil that is moist, but not constantly waterlogged, satisfies the king’s seal. It can tolerate wet soils for a while, and could be used in a rain garden. Once well established, Solomon’s seal tolerates extended dry periods, too. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8 . Solomon’s seal likes a cool, shady environment. Propagation: : Solomon’s seal is easiest to propagate by division of the rhizomatous roots. This is best done in the spring, but be careful not to break any more of the fragile stems than necessary. Seeds can be collected and sown in autumn.
Solomon’s seal is one of the many shade-loving, forest floor herbaceous perennials that are best grown in the naturalized setting of a woodland garden. Once established, they can be expected to spread slowly, sending up new stems at a distance of a foot or two (30-60 cm) a year. They also can be used in the shadiest parts of mixed borders or in a shady rock garden. The delicate little nodding flowers may be rather inconspicuous, but well worth seeking out. Here in my North Florida woodland garden, Solomon’s seal is naturalized along with other sylvan nymphs including blue violet (Viola sororia), Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), and Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), among others. See Floridata’s Shade Plants for a longer list.
Young shoots of Solomon’s seal can be prepared and eaten like asparagus. Skip the leafy parts which turn bitter when cooked. The starchy rhizomes can be cooked and eaten like potatoes. Native Americans used Solomon’s seal for a variety of medicinal purposes as well as a food. They ground the dried rhizomes to make a flour for bread, and cooked the stems and leaves as potherbs. The European species was widely believed to have important medicinal values, and New World settlers no doubt made use of the local species.
The 50 or so species of Polygonatum occur in the temperate regions of Asia, Europe and North America. P. commutatum, great Solomon’s seal, is a larger relative of P. biflorum, and also native to North America. It forms large colonies, gets up to 7 ft (2.1 m) tall, and looks best at the edge of a natural woodland.
The common name (which is shared with the European species, P. multiflorum) may derive from the belief that extracts from the plant could heal (seal) wounds and broken bones; or perhaps because King Solomon placed his “seal of approval” on the medicinal value of the plant; or perhaps because someone thought the stem scars on the rhizomes resembled royal seals.
Polygonatum was formerly placed in the family Liliaceae.
Steve Christman 5/31/15