One of the more common woodland wildflowers you may encounter in late Spring is known as False Solomon’s Seal. Blooming white flowers in late Spring to early Summer,
In this article:
- What is False Solomon’s Seal
- What are the benefits of False Solomon’s Seal
- How to grow and care for False Solomon’s Seal
- Identification / Characteristics
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect False Solomon’s Seal
- Where to buy False Solomon’s Seal
- Uses of False Solomon’s Seal
- Final thoughts
What is False Solomon’s Seal
False Solomon’s Seal is a herbaceous perennial wildflower native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Maianthemum racemosa, it grows up to 2-1/2′ tall in partial shade or full sun, blooming white flowers in late Spring to early summer for approximately 3 weeks, attracting attracting bees, flies, and beetles.
When walking through a mature forest, the foliage of False Solomon’s Seal is one of the plants that give it a magical feeling. The arching plants with large prominent leaves give off a beautiful green hue that contrasts with the shadows from the forest canopy. It can give one the feeling of walking in a tropical forest rather than a deciduous forest of the far North.
The survival and flourishing of this plant face several challenges. The foliage is heavily favored by deer , the roots may be dependent on the presence of special fungi in the soil , and it’s growth and propagation can be negatively impacted by invasive species such as Bush Honeysuckle and Garlic Mustard.
The difference between False Solomon’s Seal and Solomon’s Seal
False Solomon’s Seal will have blooms terminating at the end of the stalk, and the flowers are in small clusters. Solomon’s Seal will have it’s flowers hang down from the stalk, like small bells.
Native Range of False Solomon’s Seal
False Solomon’s Seal has one of the most interesting native ranges in North America. It is widely distributed but nearly absent in the drier parts of the Midwest, from Saskatchewan to Texas.
False Solomon’s Seal Reference Table
|Scientific Name||Maianthemum racemosa (was formerly classified as Smilacena racemosa)|
|Common Name(s)||False Solomon’s Seal, Solomon’s Plume, False Spikenard, Feathery False Lily of the Valley|
|Native Range, USDA Zone||North America, USDA hardiness zones 3-8|
|Bloom Duration, Color||2-4 weeks, White|
|Height||2-3′ tall (60-90 cm)|
|Spacing / Spread||18-24″ (30-60 cm)|
|Light Requirements||Partial sun or partial shade|
|Soil Types||Any soil with high organic matter (typical woodlands)|
|Moisture||Moist to slightly dry|
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts||Bees, flies, beetles, birds and rodents|
What are the Benefits of False Solomon’s Seal
Grows well in the woods
For those with wooded lots, False Solomon’s Seal is a flower you can grow. The lack of sunlight often means that it is difficult to get blooming perennials to grow. But, the truth is you just need to select the right flowers, and False Solomon’s Seal is a true woodland wildflower.
Blooms after Spring ephemerals
False Solomon’s Seal will begin blooming after early Spring ephemerals have finished. So, even if we get some amazing color from Trillums, Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, or Virginia Bluebells, we don’t have to accept a non-flowering woods! False Solomon’s Seal will produce flowers after these, adding more interest and color to the forest.
False Solomon’s Seal preference is to grow in dappled sunlight or partial sun, but this preference allows it to tolerate a variety of moisture conditions. This means you may encounter it growing near water as well as on a dry southern slope.
The leaves of False Solomon’s Seal are reminiscent of an ornate houseplant rather than a regular woodland plant. A large population of these plants look great even when not in bloom.
Grow and Care for False Solomon’s Seal
For sunlight requirements, False Solomon’s Seal will grow best in the dappled sun of a deciduous forest. It doesn’t like full sun or full shade.
For soil, it will do best in anything rich in organic matter. So, this means more mature forests with many years of leaf-litter build up. Texture isn’t as important as long as the organic matter is present and it drains well.
The partial shade allows False Solomon’s Seal to grow well in moist soil or drier slopes. I’ve found it growing amongst the boulders of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Pennsylvania where drainage is high, and a short distance away growing near a spring/creek.
False Solomon’s Seal can spread via seed and rhizome root. So, given enough time you may wind up with a population more than you want. If this occurs, simply dig out the plants you don’t want.
Even with this spreading nature, this plant shouldn’t be considered aggressive or invasive.
False Solomon’s Seal should not require supplemental fertilizer. It should be able to derive all that it needs from photosynthesis and organic matter in the forest soil.
How to Grow False Solomon’s Seal from Seed
False Solomon’s Seal is one of the more difficult plants to grow from seed. Researchers have even come up short in controlled environments. This makes one wonder if germination requires the presence of various fungi or microbes.
The berries this plant eventually produces will contain a few seeds per berry. And these seeds must be kept moist from when they are collected until they are planted. And, they will need a double dormancy, similar to Wild Leeks (Ramps) or many Virburnums.
But to grow False Solomon’s Seal from seed, you have some options. You could direct sow False Solomon’s Seal seed in a location that is suitable for it (partial shade, medium moist, high organic matter) that doesn’t have too much competition. If you do this, know that you will not see seedlings for two years.
Secondly, you can collect fresh seed, and Winter Sow it in late summer, leaving the container out of direct sunlight to help it stay moist. Then, when winter sets in, over-winter it in an unheated garage or shed. Then in Spring, check for a radical sprouting from the seed, or leave the container in the shade (although algae may become a problem). Then, over Winter it again in an unheated garage or shed. Finally getting germination in the second Spring.
And finally, you can simulate the stratification periods by placing the fresh seed in a moist towel or medium in a sealed container, and keeping it in a warm location for a couple months, then cold for a couple months, then repeating the process. Finally, planting outside in Spring, hopefully resulting in germination. A major risk doing this method is mold developing on the seed. This isn’t a ‘dealbreaker’, and the seed may still germinate. It depends on how much mold has formed and how much it has damaged the seed coat.
Identification and Characteristics of False Solomon’s Seal
The central stem of False Solomon’s Seal will rise, then arch laterally rather than stand tall. It is round, light green and have sparse hairs.
At the end of the stem, a panicle (cluster) of flowers will occur that is roughly 4″ long by roughly 2″ wide (10 cm x 5 cm). Individual flowers will be roughly 1/8″ diameter (3 mm). There will be no petals, but small white tepals and stamens (about six each). The anthers on the stamen will be a cream color, while all other parts are white.
It will bloom for roughly 3 weeks from late Spring to early Summer. Each flower will eventually turn into an edible berry with several seeds. The berries can be red, purple, or striped.
The root system of False Solomon’s Seal is fibrous roots and rhizomes. Generally the roots are shallow, in the top 1-2″ (2-5 cm) of soil, and lack fine hairs.[root] This has led some researchers to conclude that False Solomon’s Seal is dependent on other fungi (arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi) in the soil for survival. The plant will be clump forming from the rhizomes if the soil is loose/organic with lots of hummus.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with False Solomon’s Seal
The flowers of False Solomon’s Seal are mainly pollinated by tiny bees, beetles, and flies. It isn’t an overly ‘busy’ plant, but will attract some pollinators.
Birds and Mammals
The seed dispersal by birds and rodents are one of the primary methods for the spread of False Solomon’s Seal. Since the plant grows in the understory, the berries are not visible to most birds. However, Thrushes, Grouse, and other birds frequently on the ground are able to spot it, and are thus primary consumers of the fruit.
Chipmunks also are consumers of the berries. Mice have been found to eat the seeds of fresh False Solomon’s Seal, but once the seeds dry they reject it in controlled experiments.
Deer and Rabbits
False Solomon’s Seal is noted to be a preferred food for deer. If one is attempting to establish a population, it is probably best to cage individual plants to protect them throughout the season.
False Solomon’s Seal is generally not effected by disease.
Where you can buy False Solomon’s Seal
False Solomon’s Seal is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a common landscaping plant. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.
Where to buy seeds
We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)
Uses of False Solomon’s Seal
False Solomon’s Seal is a natural choice for a wooded lot, a partial shade garden, or the border of a forest. Although you will have more success if your soil is rich and has lots of hummus. Compacted (former turf) may support this plant, but it you will probably have to heavily amend with compost.
False Solomon’s Seal will grow well near many other woodland wildflowers, or flowers that need good drainage but lots of organic matter. Some examples would be the following:
- Solomon’s Seal (they often grow together!)
- Dutchman’s Breeches
- Jack in the Pulpit
- Rue Anemone
- Spring Beauty
- Virginia Bluebells
- Wild Geranium
- Wild Ginger
Edible uses of False Solomon’s Seal
Young shoots may be cooked and eaten similarly to Asparagus. However, when foraged in this manner it may kill the plant, and thus I don’t recommend it. The berries may also be eaten raw or cooked, but seeds should be removed. Note that berries may be used as a laxative – so eat it sparingly!
- Decotion (tea) made from leaves used as a contraceptive, cough, stop bleeding, rashes, and itch
- Fruits were eaten for food by Native Americans
- A decoction of root (with other ingredients) was taken for back pain
- Compound of root was taken for ‘female weakness’
- Infusion of roots could be pounded for eye medicine
- Poultice of leaves could be made for sores, boils, or burns
This is one of the more interesting plants native to North America. It has been wildly successful as one can see from it’s native range, is edible to humans and mammals alike, and looks great during the entire growing season. If you’ve got a shady area, this could be a great plant to try.
 – Maianthemum racemosum. USDA NRCS. Accessed 10MAY2023.
 – Dobbs, Liz. 1001 Plants You Must Grow Before You Die. Cassell Illustrated. 2016. pp960.
 – Foster, Steven & Duke, James A. A Field Guide To Medicinal Plants And Herbs. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000. pp.432
 – Pendergast IV, Thomas H., et al. “The legacy of deer overabundance: long-term delays in herbaceous understory recovery.” Canadian Journal of Forest Research 46.3 (2016): 362-369. Accessed 13MAY2023
 – Hale, Alison N., “An empirical test of the mutualism disruption hypothesis: impacts of an allelopathic invader on the ecophysiology of a native forest herb.“, Diss. University of Pittsburgh, 2012.
 – Loomis, Jessica D., Stephen F. Matter, and Guy N. Cameron. “Effects of invasive Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on survival of sugar maple seedlings in a southwestern Ohio forest.” The American Midland Naturalist 174.1 (2015): 65-73. Accessed 13MAY2023
 – Barak, Rebecca S., et al. “Cracking the case: Seed traits and phylogeny predict time to germination in prairie restoration species.” Ecology and Evolution 8.11 (2018): 5551-5562. Archived 13MAY2023.
 – Philhower-Gillen, Jennifer R. “The Role of Animals in Maintaining Forest Herb Diversity in Southeast Ohio.” Diss. Ohio University, 2015. Accessed 13MAY2023
 – Trujillo, Nathalia Paola Rodríguez. “Mystery seeds: Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) foraging preferences on seeds of herbaceous plants.” Accessed 09MAY2023
 – Maianthemum racemosa. North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 12MAY2023.
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