Blooming right now in Catskills gardens is the stately Great Solomons Seal, known to botanists as Polygonatum multiflorum. A wildflower in Europe and Asia, it became popular as a staple of Victorian era shade gardens and has been growing in Catskills gardens ever since. Its gracefully arching stems reach three feet in height, and issue from a chunky rootstock. The tubular flowers hang from the undersides of the stems in clusters of 3 or 4.
Also blooming right now but in the woods is our local wildflower version of the Solomons Seal Polygonatum biflorum. It is much more petite reaching only 12 inches in height. The flowers also hang beneath the stem, but in clusters of 2, as is signified by the botanical name in Latin ‘biflorum’. The flowers are greenish in color.
Another species of Polygonatum sometimes found in the Catskills area but more frequently in other parts of New York State is the very similar Polygonatum pubescens with the undersides of the leaves yellow fuzzy and the flowers less cylindrical, more globe-shaped.
Polygonatum odoratum from Europe is more similar in appearance to our native species than to the Great Solomons Seal of our gardens. A commercially available variety of this plant (pictured here) is variegated with a white edge to the leaf.
Surprisingly, the genus Polygonatum is in the Asparagus family of plants. Altogether there about 60 species in the genus. China especially has a lot of species diversity, with over 20 species. Polygonatum flowers all have a similar flower structure, designed to interact with bees in a particular way called buzz pollination to achieve fertilization. The flower tube forms a resonating chamber. The bee hangs onto the tip of the flower tube. The opening is too small for it to really get at the pollen in the flower. So the bee uses its wings to vibrate or buzz, to shake the pollen loose. Some of the pollen falls to the bottom of the tube where the bumblebee collects it. The female part of the flower inside the tube gets coated with pollen and is fertilized, a botanical version of Shake and Bake!
False Solomon’s Seal, another woodland wildflower, has foliage similar to our native Solomons Seal, but one look at the flower definitively points to its falseness. It’s actually related to another plant which will be the subject of my next post, so stay tuned!