Friday, June 11, 2010

LOOK FOR: Solomon's Seal

This is not a post about marine's about a plant. And it's in honor of our friend Solomon, whose birthday is coming up. The Solomon's seals are celebrating with flowers.

Photo credit: Rachel Ford James
Solomon's seal is a plant of moist woods that sends up an 18" arc of horizontal green leaves that alternate along the stem. At this time of year, if you look carefully under those leaves, you may find little white flowers dangling from the stem. Later in the summer, each pollinated flower will become a little berry -- starting green, then turning dark blue.

Before it was the name for a plant, the term "Solomon's seal" referred to a ring given to King Solomon -- which had on it the symbol we now call the Star of David. Apparently, the plant gets its name from some round "seals" on its roots that reminded somebody of that ring. The roots also have lots of joints and bends, giving this genus its scientific name, Polygonatum -- many-kneed.

Why people spend all that time worrying about the roots, I'm not exactly sure. Seems to me there's plenty of action above ground to enjoy.

In your yard: We are successfully growing Solomon's seal in our shady backyard. I'm not sure if you can buy them at retail nurseries; we ordered ours from a nearby nursery that specializes in native plants.

In the wild: Solomon's seal isn't super-common, but we've seen it in many local parks.

The one thing you might confuse it with is a plant called Solomon's plume (also "false" Solomon's seal) that has similar leaves, but the flowers are quite different and stick out at the end of the stalk rather than hanging down along it. More about that for Solomon's next birthday!

Photo credit: PCHGorman