Wild Spikenard; False Solomon’s Seal; Solomon’s Zig-zag – Flowers

(Vagnera racemosa) Lily-of-the-Valley family

(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; t 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, Iance-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, bellshaped 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 away.

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 centre 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 stripes.

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.