False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)

Also known as Smilacina racemosa, and placed by some botanists in the Asparagus family Asparagaceae; the on-line Flora of North America, however, keeps it among the lilies in Liliaceae.

The plant is sometimes also called “False Spikenard.” It seems a little unfair to call this a “false” anything, and some people prefer to call it a “Solomon’s Plume,” a name one suspects was given to the plant by some amateur botanist as a sort of consolation prize. It is true, however, that the plant is hard to tell from a Solomon’s Seal before the flowers start to appear. Once the distinctive plume of little white flowers appears, there’s no mistaking the difference. These plants were blooming in late May along the Squaw Run Valley in Fox Chapel.

Gray describes the genus Smilacina (nnow usually included in Maianthemum) and the species S. racemosa:

SMILACÍNA Desf. FALSE SOLOMON’S SEAL. Perianth 6-parted, spreading, withering-persistent. Filaments 6, slender; anthers short, introrse. Ovary 3-celled, with 2 ovules in each cell; style short and thick; stigma obscurely 3-lobed. Berry globular, 1-2-seeded, at first greenish or yellowish-white speckled with madder brown, at length a dull subtranslucent ruby red. —Perennial herbs, with simple stems from creeping or thickish rootstocks, alternate nerved mostly sessile leaves, and white, sometimes fragrant flowers. (Name a diminutive of Smilax.)

Flowers on very short pedicels in a terminal racemose panicle; stamens exceeding the small (2 mm. long) segments; ovules collateral; rootstock stout, fleshy.

S. racemosa (L.) Desf. (FALSE SPIKENARD.) Minutely downy (4-10 dm. high); leaves numerous, oblong or oval-lanceolate, taper-pointed, ciliate, abruptly somewhat petioled. (Vagnera Morong.) — Moist copses and banks.


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