Solomon’s-seals – are you kidding?

 A gardener’s look at how our preconceived ideas prevent us from experiencing new plants in the garden.

Most specialty nurseries nowadays are carrying a wide range of Solomon’s Seals – Polygonatum spp., of which quite a few don’t look at all like the common, North American native Polygonatum biflorum. Although the Great Solomon’s seal is a great addition to any woodland garden of a certain size, its size and spreading behaviour have been extended wrongly to the genus Polygonatum in general. If we are willing to look beyond, there are species and varieties that look and/or ‘behave’ in the garden completely different. I cannot say it better than Tony Avent from Plant Delights Nursery did when talking about Polygonatum kingianum: “forget everything you know about Solomon’s seal, except that it grows from a rhizome in the shade.”

I am sure the list can be longer but I’ll resume to a few species that I have images and are available at Lost Horizons Nursery in Ontario.

Polygonatum kingianum grows to 1-3 m tall, erect or as a climber; its leaves are narrow and arranged in whorls, each ending in a tendril-like tip. Flowers can be white to pink or orange and berries red. Flora of China specifies it is a highly variable species, which stands true for a few others Polygonatum sp. with whorled leaves.

 Polygonatum verticillatum has also narrow leaves in disposed in whorls (but no tip-tendrils) and creamy-white flowers. A very tall form in cultivation is P. verticillatum ‘Himalayan Giant’. Another beauty with narrow, whorled leaves and smoky-rose flowers is Polygonatum curvistylum (I don’t have an image so you’ll have to believe me). Another species presented in the gallery, with umbel-like inflorescences might be P. zanlanscianense, but I’m not very sure. For more unusual species Flora of China is a good source of descriptions, although in some cases given their variability is hard to ascertain a proper identity, looking only at a few plants.

 My preferate – Polygonatum hookeri is a dwarf Solomon-seal that you’ll fall in love with at first sight.  It is a native from parts of China and N. India, where it grows at altitudes over 3000 m. It reaches only 10 cm in height and the leaves are crowded on the stems. The pink or lavender flowers resemble those of a hyacinth, and berries are red. In time it will form a lovely groundcover mat allowing other taller plants to peak through. Perfect for a small rockery in part shade. Available also at Wrightman Alpines – after all it is an alpine solomon’s seal!