Starry False Solomon's Seal
Lily family (Liliaceae)
Description: This native perennial plant is 1-2½' tall and unbranched. The central stem is stout, smooth, and zigzags slightly. It usually reclines to the side somewhat, rather than being held stiffly erect with respect to the ground. The alternate leaves are narrowly ovate, with parallel veins and smooth margins. They are up to 6" long and 2" across, and are sessile to the central stem, or have short petioles. The undersides of the leaves may be slightly pubescent.
The central stem terminates in a single inflorescence consisting of small white flowers. This inflorescence is a narrow raceme (almost spike-like) about 1-4" long. Each flower has 6 narrow tepals, 6 stamens with yellow anthers, and a central pistil that is shaped like a vase with a long, narrow neck. When fully open, each star-like flower is about 1/3" across. The blooming period occurs during late spring and lasts about 3 weeks. There is a mild floral fragrance. Each flower is replaced by a small berry about ¼" across. The berries are initially green with purple or black stripes, but later become bright red. The root system consists of stout rhizomes, which form vegetative colonies readily.
Cultivation: This plant prefers moist to slightly dry conditions and partial sunlight. It will also tolerate light shade and full sunlight. It is not particular about soil texture, but often grows in sandy soil in native habitats. Insects and disease are rarely bothersome.
Range & Habitat: Starry False Solomon's Seal occurs occasionally in northern and east-central Illinois, and is uncommon elsewhere (see Distribution Map). In southern Illinois, it is largely absent. Habitats include sandy prairies, moist meadows in woodland areas, woodland borders, sandy riverbanks and semi-wooded slopes, Black Oak savannas, calcareous seeps, and the shrub zone of sand dunes near Lake Michigan. Among the Smilacina spp. in Illinois, Starry False Solomon's Seal is the most likely to occur in sunny areas, although it usually doesn't stray far from areas with some woody vegetation.
Faunal Associations: The flowers attract Halictid bees (including Green Metallic bees), flower flies, and Tachinid flies primarily. These insects seek nectar or pollen. The berries are eaten by woodland songbirds, including various woodland thrushes and the Veery, as well as the White-Footed Mouse. These animals help to distribute the seeds. Deer often feed on the foilage, cropping the stems to about 6" above the ground.
Photographic Location: The photograph was taken near Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: Starry False Solomon's Seal has attractive foilage, flowers, and berries. It can be distinguished from Smilacina racemosa (False Solomon's Seal) by the narrower leaves and spike-like inflorescence. The latter plant has a plume-like inflorescence that consists of a spreading raceme. Another plant with similar foliage, Polygonatum biflorum (Smooth Solomon's Seal), has broader leaves that are pale green. However, the flowers of this species occur in pairs underneath the leaves along the stem. Another scientific name for Starry False Solomon's Seal is Maianthemum stellatum.