(Vagnera racemosa; Smilacina racemosa of Gray)

Lily-of-the-Valley family

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 sometimes finely

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

speckled berries.

Preferred Habitat - Moist woods, thickets, hillsides.

Flowering Season - May-July.

Distribution - Nova Scotia to Georgia; westward to Arizona and

British Columbia.

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



(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.


(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.


(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

known, species.

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


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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