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Scientific Name: Smilacina racemoso
Common Name: False Solomon’s Seal

(Information for this species page was gathered in part by Ms. Jesyrae Lawther for an assignment in Biology 220M, Spring 2009)

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemoso) (also called “Solomon’s plume”) is a plant species in the lily (Liliaceae) family. It can be found all across North America (including Canada, the United States, and Mexico) and even well down into the countries of Central America. It can be abundant in both moist and also dry forests, along stream banks, and on rocky, wooded slopes. It grows readily in light shade or partial sun and in moist to moderately dry soils although it is most frequently found and often identified with moist environments. These broad tolerances of soils types, moisture levels, and sunlight allows it to potentially grow almost anywhere.

Appearance
False Solomon’s seal grows in clonal clumps that arise from extensive, subterranean rhizomes.

false solomon's seal The individual stems in a clump grow between 1 and 2 feet long, are dark green and glossy and slightly zigzagged in shape, and have long, ovate leaves that arise in opposite pairs along its length. The leaves are also dark green and are prominently etched with numerous, parallel veins. Each stem flowers in mid-spring forming terminal clusters of small, white, star-shaped flowers. These flowers give the plant a plume-like appearance.

 

Growth
Stems in a cluster of false Solomon’s seal are the annual growths off of the perennial rhizome. The rhizome is thick (10 to 20 mm in diameter), extensively rooted, and covered with both active and “reserve” stem buds from which the above ground stems arise. An individual rhizome can persist for many years and continue to grow viable stems for decades.

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Pollination, Fruiting, and Seed Dispersal
The mildly fragrant flowers are pollinated by a great variety of small bees and flies and a very diverse array of small beetles (including seed beetles, long-horned beetles, click beetles, blister beetles, tumbling flower beetles, flower scarab beetles, and pedilid beetles). The fruits that set after pollination are initially translucent green berries with pale, brown-red spots. These small berries ripen into typically bright red fruits that are clustered, like the flowers they arise from, at the terminal end of the stem. Soil pH affects the final coloration of the fruit formed.

The fruit of the false Solomon’s seal are consumed by a wide variety of birds (including ruffed grouse) and a small number of rodents (including white-footed mice). The passage of the seeds through the intestinal tracts of these species stimulates germination, and the deposition of these seeds in the feces greatly facilitates the dispersal of the plant.

The leaves of false Solomon’s seal are edible but relatively unpalatable. White-tail deer occasionally will browse false Solomon’s seal, but few other herbivores are known to consume it. This lack of herbivore pressure greatly assists the continued persistence and growing abundance of false Solomon’s seal in its forest habitats.

Human Use
In traditional medicine the dried roots of false Solomon’s seal can be used to brew a tea to treat coughs and constipation. Chemicals in the roots act as expectorants and mucous softening agents. A leaf tea of the plant can be used topically to treat rashes and reduce itching. A Native American tribe in California used an effusion of crushed false Solomon’s seal roots to stun fish and facilitate their harvest from streams. False Solomon’s seal is also frequently planted as an ornamental in perennial flower gardens.


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