Friday, May 21, 2010
Spring flowers are in full bloom now in the woods and fields. This week I have seen Pink Lady’s Slipper, Blue-eyed Grass, Fringed Polygala (aka Gaywings), Starflower, Canada Mayflower, May Apple, Buttercups, Bluets, various species of violet, wild Geranium, Jack-in-the Pulpit, Ragged Robin, and wild Columbine. I spent some time in the new trails at Greystone Crossing on Cross Street searching, unsuccessfully, for the Trilliums which gave their name (and maybe their life) to Trillium Way. I contented myself instead with Solomon’s Seal, an unassuming member of the lily family. You can also see it in the Estabrook Woods and on the Towle Land.
Name: There are three species of Solomon’s Seal, the great, the smooth, and the hairy. The ones at Greystone and Towle are Polygonatum pubescens, the hairy kind. (I didn’t look closely at the Estabrook ones.) The common name refers to healing properties of the plant. There are many references on the web and in books to its various medicinal uses. The most frequently mentioned is its use for healing wounds, cuts, and bruises. King Solomon, in his wisdom, recognized the value of the plant and stamped his seal of approval on the rhizome. The plant is a perennial and every year a new leaf stalk sprouts from the fresh growth on the rhizome. Last year’s leaf stalk, dead and gone, leaves behind a circular scar on the root. The species name, pubescens, means downy or hairy and refers not to Solomon but to the underside of the leaf. The genus name means many angles and may refer to the ‘many-jointed’ rhizome which has a ‘knob’ for each year of its life.
Distinguishing characteristics: The plant has a single arching stem with alternately arranged smooth-edged leaves. The stem can get to be three feet long but most I find are less than two feet. The greenish-white bell-shaped flowers are attached at the leaf axils and dangle below the leaves. The flowers may be in pairs, like the ones at Greystone, or single, like the ones at Towle. You need a hand lens to see the fine silvery hairs on the underside of the leaves, growing in rows along the veins.
There is a False Solomon’s Seal also in bloom now which makes it easy to distinguish. The ‘false’ one has a big feathery cluster of tiny white flowers at the end of the leaf-bearing stalk. When not in bloom, one might mistake False Solomon’s Seal for the ‘great’ species of true Solomon’s Seal.
For the garden: Solomon’s Seal is a graceful addition to a shade garden or woodland garden. I now have enough of the larger variety (three to four feet long) in my garden to cut one now and then for a simple elegant table display. Many kinds are available. Check the varieties at Blanchette Gardens on Rutland Street.
Sources: Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, Lawrence, Newcomb; Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants.
Submissions and ideas for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged on any species that occurs in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a note, a photo, or the whole column to email@example.com. If you have a mystery species, send that too. ∆
Sandpiper sighting: A Solitary Sandpiper was spotted at Milne Cove Road on May 8. They are seen in Carlisle in April or May as they migrate north for breeding, and again from July to mid-October. Check the online archive of October 3, 2008 for a full account.
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