King Solomon's-seal is native to all states of New England, although questionably in RI. Its tall, arching stem carries greenish-white flowers in spring, followed by blue-black berries.
King Solomon’s-seal, Liliaceae
by Anna Fialkoff
Polygonatum biflorum is native in New England to CT, MA, ME, NH, and VT. Although it has been reported as native to RI by George in 1992, the specimens are unknown. The complete range runs from Canada south to Florida and west to North Dakota. It is most often found in rich, dry-mesic to mesic, upland forests and woodlands, riparian forests, embankments, fields, and roadsides. Though native, this species is also commonly planted in New England (generally it is robust forms that are cultivated). This plant needs medium water use and grows in part shade to shade environments. King Solomon’s-seal attracts both birds and butterflies.
The arching stalks are from one to five feet in length and have a zig-zagging leaf pattern. The May greenish-white tubular flowers hang in pairs or clusters from the axils of the leaves, which are oval and veined. Following the flowers, blue berries appear. After the leaves have died back for winter, a scar is left on the rhizomes that resembles the “Seal of King Solomon” from the Bible.
P. biflorum is sometimes treated as being comprised of two species—a diploid (P. biflorum) and a tetraploid (P.commutatum). Though the tetraploid is usually larger, some diploids have been collected that are fully as large as any tetraploid. This has led some authors to treat the entire complex as a single variable. However, local ecological differences have been observed between diploids and tetraploids, lending support to the hypothesis that plants with different ploidy levels may represent real taxa.
The rhizome has been used by the Cherokee for love attraction and by the Chinese as a heart tonic. Both Native Americans and early settlers ate the rhizome as food. They also used it and it was used in the Civil War for bruises, broken bones, dislocations, sprains, etc. The rhizome contains allantoin, perhaps aiding in musculoskeletal healing. It is also mucilaginous and has expectorant qualities, so is used for lung ailments. The berries, however, are poisonous, but with a low toxicity, mostly causing vomiting and diarrhea.
Find it at Garden in the Woods: near the picnic tables, in the herb garden, and in the entrance garden
Please note: This article is for historical information use only. New England Wild Flower Society does not advocate the use of any native plants for medicinal purposes.
New England Wild Flower Society is part of the community of non-profits in Framingham, MA, which is collaborating on a town-wide celebration of the role the citizens of Framingham played in the Civil War for the 150th anniversary of that conflict. New England Wild Flower Society will offer several special tours of Garden in the Woods in April and August with particular emphasis on herbal plants used for medicinal purposes during the Civil War. In the fall of 2010, Anna Fialkoff, horticultural apprentice, constructed an herb garden including an herb spiral in the Idea Garden. Her notes are the basis of this series of articles.