False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum

False Solomons seal is a native woodland plant with arching stems.

False Solomon’s seal is a native woodland plant with arching stems.

False Solomon’s seal (also called feathery false lily of the valley) is a native woodland plant that gets its common name from its superficial resemblance to Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.). Both are in the lily family (Liliaceae) and are often found together, but are easy to distinguish by where the flowers are produced on the plants. Originally named Smilacina racemosa, this plant that ranges across most of North America north of Mexico in zones 3-9 was moved to the genus Maianthemum a long time ago but the old name is still sometimes used. Native Americans used the root and leaves to produce medicinal teas, and ate the young shoots and processed roots.

The emerging new foliage in spring looks just like true Solomons seal.

The emerging new foliage in spring looks just like true Solomon’s seal.

As an herbaceous perennial the foliage dies down to the ground each fall and re-emerges in the spring from the stout, fleshy, persistent rhizomes with secondary fibrous roots. The alternate, ovate leaves are produced on 1-3 foot, unbranched arching stems that hold up well through the summer. The slightly hairy, reddish or green stems zigzag slightly between the leaves.

The smooth entire leaves (L) are produced alternately on the slightly zigzagging stems (R).

The smooth entire leaves (L) are produced alternately on the slightly zigzagging stems (R).

Each smooth, entire leaf is up to 6 inches long with strong parallel veins along its length and usually without a petiole (lower leaves sometimes have short petioles). The foliage may turn yellow to gold in the fall, but sometimes just goes brown. The plants often form large colonies from slowly spreads clumps.

In late spring and early summer feathery masses of small white to pale yellow, fragrant flowers are produced in flat panicles at the ends of the stems. Flower clusters can have between 20 and 80 individual flowers. Each ¼” wide star-shaped flower has 6 tepals (petals and sepals that look the same), 6 stamens with yellow anthers and a central pistil. The flowers are pollinated by small bees, flies, and beetles. The flowers are very different from the bell-shaped flowers of Solomon’s seal that hang from each node on the stem.

The flowers of false Solomons seal are borne on the ends of the stems (L) in feathery clusters (LC) with 20-80 flowers (C), and each starshaped white flower with 6 tepals and stamens (RC and R).

The flowers of false Solomon’s seal are borne on the ends of the stems (L) in feathery clusters (LC) with 20-80 flowers (C), and each star-shaped white flower with 6 tepals and stamens (RC and R).

The flowers are followed by clusters of small rounded berries, each containing a few seeds. They turn from green (or green with purple speckles that gives an overall appearance of a russet color), to translucent red or red and purple-marked when they ripen in late summer or fall. Birds and mice may eat the berries, dispersing the seeds into new areas.

The berries on the ends of the stems (L) turn from green with red mottling (C) to red when mature (R).

The berries on the ends of the stems (L) turn from green with red mottling (C) to red when mature (R).

False Solomons seal likes rich, moist soil.

False Solomon’s seal likes rich, moist soil.

False Solomon’s seal prefers the same conditions as Solomon’s seal: moist, rich, well-drained soils in partial to full shade, but it also tolerates drier, rockier conditions. The roots do not like to be disturbed and flowering will be affected for a year or two if transplanted. Deer will sometimes browse the foliage.

M. racemosum is best used in shaded borders, woodland gardens or native plant gardens, and combines well with other shade-loving plants, both native and introduced. The arching stems contrast well with the mounded forms of hosta or the more upright form of ferns. It likes the same conditions as

False Solomons seal combines well with other shade-loving perennials.

False Solomon’s seal combines well with other shade-loving perennials.

bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), red columbine (Aqueligia canadensis), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), wild ginger (Asarum spp.), and foam flower (Tiarella spp.). It is most effective in clumps of at least 6 stems, although individuals will eventually produce more stems if singles are planted. This species often enters a garden as a volunteer; if that occurs in an inopportune location they can be moved by digging and replacing the entire clump in a new spot (especially when young). Plants can be propagated from fresh seed sown in the fall or by division of the clumps in spring or fall.

This species is similar to M. stellatum (with common names including starry, little, or star-flowered false Solomon’s seal) which is shorter, has fewer but larger flowers, narrower leaves that clasp the stem, and darker, almost black, berries.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


Download Article as PDF


Additional Information

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

While the University of Wisconsin Colleges and the University of Wisconsin - Extension do not regularly review content posted to social media sites, the administration shall have the right to remove any content from any official site for any reason, including but not limited to content deemed threatening, obscene, a violation of intellectual property rights or privacy laws, or otherwise injurious or illegal.

Public opinions/comments posted on this site do not necessarily reflect those of UW-Extension/UW Colleges.