Maianthemum racemosum is one of my favorite woodland natives. Unlike the spring ephemerals–whose displays are fleeting, Maianthemum racemosum has an interesting transition lasting three seasons. In early spring, arching stems with large leaves are eye-catching. In late spring to early summer, each plant produces a plume of snow-white flowers which are subsequently replaced by green berries. The berries swell through the season, each developing a unique pattern of red mottling that contrasts beautifully against the green leaves. By late August the berries achieve a mango coloration and the green leaves fade to the rich shade of wheat. On the crisp days of early fall, I am delighted by the cherry red berries and the silvery gray of the now crinkled leaves. One need look no further to discover such interesting and rich color combinations.
Latin Name/Common Name-
The most recently accepted scientific name for this plant is Maianthemum racemosum (1986 from LaFrankie), but it is still often listed under its previous name of Smilacina racemosa. Maianthemum is a combination of the Latin word ‘maius’, meaning May, and the Greek word ‘anthemon’, meaning flower. The species name, racemosum is Latin and refers to the flowers “having a raceme.”
It is called by the common name of False Solomon’s seal because it’s growth pattern, leaves and habitat are similar to Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum. A more poetic common name is, Solomon’s plume, in reference to the plume of flowers.
Maianthemum racemousm is in the Liliaceae family.
The raceme of tiny flowers are a brilliant, snow-white and seem to glow against the green and brown forest floor.
Bright white flowers in a terminal raceme
Maianthemum racemosum has a single, crooked stem. The stem has a slight bend at the origin of each elliptic shaped leaf, giving it an interesting zig-zag pattern. The leaves are distributed alternately, forming two rows on either side of the smooth stem. They lack petioles and are creased with prominent, parallel veins. This helps identify the plant as a monocot (monocots usually have parallel veins; dicots usually have netted veins). The arching stem, leaf shape and habitat is similar to that of Polygonatum biflorum- Smooth Solomon’s seal and when encountered before they bloom, differentiating between the two plants warrants a close look. The crooked stem is a good indicator for False Solomon’s seal. Also, the leaves of False Solomon’s seal spread horizontally and are close to the same plane as the stem, whereas the leaves of Smooth Solomon’s seal arch away from the stem like the wings of a bird.
Arching stem with flower buds
Alternate leaves on zig zag stem and young inflorescence
The bloom is terminal panicle of 7 to 25 starry flowers. They have a look similar to a lilac. The showy inflorescence of False Solomon’s Seal helps to differentiate it from Smooth Solomon’s seal, which has small, bell-like flowers partially hidden under its stem.
Maianthemum racemosum is pollinated by halictid bees.
Mature leaves with parallel veins and tiny green berries
Ripening berries with red mottling
Entire plant with new berries in June
Berries in July
Ripening berries are heavy
Macro view of the mottling pattern of berries
Mango hued berries contrast beautifully with golden leaves in August
Red berries past their peak in September
Silver foliage of September
After blooming, Maianthemum racemosum provides a second show. Tiny green berries appear. As they mature, they swell and transition through a colorful palette from green to mango and finally, bright cherry red. While immature, each berry has a unique pattern of red mottling. The berries are clustered at the tip of the stem, and droop toward the ground as they ripen.
By August, the mature, mango hued berries are absolutely beautiful against the leaves, which have been transformed into gold. September brings the foliage to a silvery gray. The berries, still red, are past maturity and lay close to the ground. I think the plant is still very beautiful in this stage.
On Ozarkedge, False Solomon’s Seal blooms in early May. This is a welcome time in the spring woodlands, as most of the spring ephemerals have completed their flowering and are thinking about sleep.
Maianthemum racemosum forms loose colonies under hardwood trees in the rich, loamy soil of the woods. It is tolerant of both moist and dry conditions.
Loose colony of False Solomon’s Seal under an oak tree
What’s Growing Nearby?
Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple), Cynoglossum virginianum (Wild comfrey) are two common companions of Mainathemum racemosum on Ozarkedge. Both of their blooms tend to peak earlier, but the bloom period of all three can overlap.
Wild comfrey in bloom on Ozarkedge
Flower and leaves of Mayapple on Ozarkedge
Maianthemum racemosum is native to North America from the midwest to the eastern coast. It’s range extends southward to a few counties in Florida and Lousiana and northward across the border into Canada. Like all of our native wildflowers, its habitat is being encroached upon by development. It is not yet on any state endangered list, but Arizona lists it as Salvage restricted, meaning a salvage permit must be obtained to remove the plant.
Range of Maianthemum racemosum in Arkansas
I took this picture of Maianthemum racemosum at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park
The young foliage is a favorite with the deer on Ozarkedge. I’ve seen colonies where they’ve consumed most of the foliage tips. After the leaves mature, the deer lose interest, searching out more tender treats.
The Potawatomi referred to this plant as ‘deer berries’. They sometimes ate the berries for food. You can read more about this here- http://www.manataka.org/page51.html.
Deer browsed the tip of this plant