WILD SPIKENARD FALSE SOLOMON'S SEAL SOLOMON'S ZIGZAG
(Vagnera racemosa; Smilacina racemosa of Gray)
Flowers - White or greenish, small, slightly fragrant, in a
densely flowered terminal raceme. Perianth of 6 separate,
spreading segments; 6 stamens; 1 pistil. Stem: Simple, somewhat
angled, 1 to 3 ft. high, scaly below, leafy, and
hairy above. Leaves: Alternate and seated along stem, oblong,
lance-shaped, 3 to 6 in. long, finely hairy beneath. Rootstock:
Thick, fleshy. Fruit: A cluster of aromatic, round, pale red
Preferred Habitat - Moist woods, thickets, hillsides.
Flowering Season - May-July.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to Georgia; westward to Arizona and
As if to offer opportunities for comparison to the confused
novice, the true Solomon's seal and the so-called false species -
quite as honest a plant - usually grow near each other. Grace of
line, rather than beauty of blossom, gives them both their chief
charm. But the feathery plume of greenish-white blossoms that
crowns the false Solomon's seal's somewhat zig-zagged stem is
very different from the small, greenish, bell-shaped flowers,
usually nodding in pairs along the stem, under the leaves, from
the axils of the true Solomon's seal. Later in summer, when
hungry birds wander through the woods with increased families,
the wild spikenard offers them branching clusters of pale red
speckled berries, whereas the latter plant feasts them with
blue-black fruit, in the hope that they will drop the seeds miles
By clustering its small, slightly fragrant flowers at the end of
its stem, the wild spikenard offers a more taking advertisement
to its insect friends than its cousin can show. A few flies and
beetles visit them; but apparently the less specialized bees,
chiefly those of the Halictus tribe, which predominate in May,
are the principal guests. These alight in the center of the
widely expanded blossoms set on the upper side of the branching
raceme so as to make their nectar and pollen easily accessible;
and as the newly opened flower has its stigma already receptive
to pollen brought to it while its own anthers are closed, it
follows the plant is dependent upon the bees' help, as well as
the birds', to perpetuate itself.
The STAR-FLOWERED SOLOMON'S SEAL (V. stellata), found from the
Atlantic to the Pacific, from Newfoundland as far south as
Kansas, has larger, but fewer, flowers than the wild spikenard,
at the end of its erect, low-growing stem. Where the two species
grow together - and they often do - it will be noticed that the
star-flowered one frequently forms colonies on rich, moist banks,
its leaves partly clasp the stem, and its berries, which may be
entirely black, are more frequently green, with six black
The TWO-LEAVED SOLOMON'S SEAL, or FALSE LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY
(Unifolium Canadense), very common in moist woods and thickets
North and West, is a curious little plant, sometimes with only a
solitary, long-petioled leaf; but where many of these sterile
plants grow together, forming shining beds. Other individuals
lift a white-flowered raceme six inches above the ground; and on
the slender, often zig-zagged flowering stem there may be one to
three, but usually two, ovate leaves, pointed at the apex,
heart-shaped at the base, either seated on it, one above the
other, or standing out from it on distinct but short petioles.
This flower has only four segments and four stamens. Like the
wild spikenard, the little plant bears clusters of pale red
speckled berries in autumn.
HAIRY or TRUE or TWIN-FLOWERED SOLOMON'S SEAL
(Polygonatum biftorum) Lily-of-the-Valley family
Flowers - Whitish or yellowish green, tubular, bell-shaped, 1 to
4, but usually 2, drooping on slender peduncles from leaf axils.
Perianth 6-lobed at entrance, but not spreading; 6 stamens, the
filaments roughened; 1 pistil. Stem: Simple, slender, arching,
leafy, 8 in. to 3 ft. long. Leaves: Oval, pointed, or
lance-shaped, alternate, 2 to 4 in. long, seated on stem, pale
beneath and softly hairy along veins. Rootstock: Thick,
horizontal, jointed, scarred. (Polygonatum = many joints). Fruit:
A blue-black berry.
Preferred Habitat - Woods, thickets, shady banks.
Flowering Season - April-June.
Distribution - New Brunswick to Florida, westward to Michigan.
>From a many-jointed, thick rootstock a single graceful curved
stem arises each spring, withers after fruiting, and leaves a
round scar, whose outlines suggested to the fanciful man who
named the genus the seal of Israel's wise king. Thus one may know
the age of a root by its seals, as one tells that of a tree by
the rings in its trunk.
The dingy little cylindric flowers, hidden beneath the leaves,
may be either self-pollenized or cross-pollenized by the
bumblebees to which they are adapted. "We may suppose," says
Professor Robertson, "that the pendulous position of the flowers
owes its origin to the fact that it renders them less convenient
to other insects, but equally convenient to the higher bees which
are the most efficient pollinators; and that the resulting
protection to pollen and nectar is merely an incidental effect."
Certain Lepidoptera, and small insects which crawl into the
cylinder, visit all the Solomon's seals.
The SMOOTH SOLOMON'S SEAL (P. commutatum; P.giganteum of Gray),
with much the same range as its smaller relative, grows in moist
woods and along shaded streams. It is a variable, capricious
plant, with a stout or slender stem, perhaps only one foot high,
or again towering above the tallest man's head; the oval leaves
also vary greatly in breadth and length; and a solitary flower
may droop from an axil, or perhaps eight dingy greenish cylinders
may hang in a cluster. But the plant is always smooth throughout.
Even the incurved filaments which obstruct the entrance to this
flower are smooth where those of the preceding species are
rough-hairy. The style is so short that it may never come in
contact with the anthers, although the winged visitors must often
leave pollen of the same flower on the stigma.
EARLY or DWARF WAKE-ROBIN
(Trillium nivale) Lily-of-the-Valley family
Flowers - Solitary, pure white, about 1 in. long, on an erect or
curved peduncle, from a whorl of 3 leaves at summit of stem.
Three spreading, green, narrowly oblong sepals; 3 oval or oblong
petals; 6 stamens, the anthers about as long as filaments; 3
slender styles stigmatic along inner side. Stem: 2 to 6 in. high,
from a short, tuber-like rootstock. Leaves: 3 in a whorl below
the flower, 1 to 2 in. long, broadly oval, rounded at end, on
short petioles. Fruit: A 3-lobed reddish berry, about 1/2 in. in
diameter, the sepals adhering.
Preferred Habitat - Rich, moist woods and thickets.
Flowering Season - March-May.
Distribution - Pennsylvania, westward to Minnesota and Iowa,
south to Kentucky.
Only this delicate little flower, as white as the snow it
sometimes must push through to reach the sunshine melting the
last drifts in the leafless woods, can be said to wake the robins
into song; a full chorus of feathered love-makers greets the
appearance of the more widely distributed, and therefore better
By the rule of three all the trilliums, as their name implies,
regulate their affairs. Three sepals, three petals, twice three
stamens, three styles, a three-celled ovary, the flower growing
out from a whorl of three leaves, make the naming of wake-robins
a simple matter to the novice. Rarely do the parts divide into
fours, or the petals and sepals revert to primitive green leaves.
With the exception of the painted trillium which sometimes grows
in bogs, all the clan live in rich, moist woods. It is said the
roots are poisonous. In them the next year's leaves lie curled
through the winter, as in the iris and Solomon's seal, among
One of the most chastely beautiful of our native wild flowers -
so lovely that many shady nooks in English rock-gardens and
ferneries contain imported clumps of the vigorous plant - is the
LARGE-FLOWERED WAKE-ROBIN, or WHITE WOOD LILY (T. grandiflorum).
Under favorable conditions the waxy, thin, white, or occasionally
pink, strongly veined petals may exceed two inches; and in
Michigan a monstrous form has been found. The broadly rhombic
leaves, tapering to a point, and lacking petioles, are seated in
the usual whorl of three, at the summit of the stem, which may
attain a foot and a half in height; from the center the
decorative flower arises on a long peduncle. At first the
entrance to the blossom is closed by the long anthers which much
exceed the filaments; and hive-bees, among other insects, in
collecting pollen, transfer it to older and now expanded flowers,
in which the low stigmas appear between the tall separated
stamens. Nectar stored in septal glands at the base invites the
visitor laden with pollen from young flowers to come in contact
with the three late maturing stigmas. The berry is black. From
Quebec to Florida and far westward we find this tardy wake-robin
in May or June.
Certainly the commonest trillium in the East, although it thrives
as far westward as Ontario and Missouri, and south to Georgia, is
the NODDING WAKE-ROBIN (T. cernuum), whose white or pinkish
flower droops from its peduncle until it is all but hidden under
the whorl of broadly rhombic, tapering leaves. The wavy margined
petals, about as long as the sepals - that is to say, half an
inch long or over - curve backward at maturity. According to Miss
Carter, who studied the flower in the Botanical Garden at South
Hadley, Mass., it is slightly proterandrous, maturing its anthers
first, but with a chance of spontaneous self-pollination by the
stigmas recurving to meet the shorter stamens. She saw bumblebees
visiting it for nectar. In late summer an egg-shaped, pendulous
red-purple berry swings from the summit. One finds the plant in
bloom from April to June, according to the climate of its long
Perhaps the most strikingly beautiful member of the tribe is the
PAINTED TRILLIUM (T. undulatum; T. erythrocarpum of Gray). At the
summit of the slender stem, rising perhaps only eight inches, or
maybe twice as high, this charming flower spreads its long,
wavy-edged, waxy-white petals veined and striped with deep pink
or wine color. The large ovate leaves, long-tapering to a point,
are rounded at the base into short petioles. The rounded,
three-angled, bright red, shining berry is seated in the
persistent calyx. With the same range as the nodding trillium's,
the painted wake-robin comes into bloom nearly a month later - in
May and June - when all the birds are not only wide awake, but
have finished courting, and are busily engaged in the most
serious business of life.
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