May Bloomers and Bullfrogs

In the last week or so the high-pitched chirps of the Chorus Frogs and Spring Peepers have been replaced with bigger sounds. Bullfrogs down in the pond have been sounding off at dusk. We’ve been able to hear their “bud” calls drifting up the hill in early evening. That’s a sign that temperatures are warming up as we slide down the backside of Spring. In a month’s time the calendar will say it’s Summer.

The first two weeks in May we’ve seen the following wild flowers blooming:

Perennial chamomile and chives were blooming in the garden at this time.

Solomon’s Seal Blue Berries Dangle Down

After the woodman was finished dumping off a truck load of firewood, I noticed that a few of the logs rolled away to the edge of the woods. Here, one lodged against the base of a couple of Smooth Solomon’s Seal plants, Polygonatum biflorum. I was delighted to see so many of the berries still intact.

Two wild Solomon's Seal plants with one crossing over the other.
Two wild Solomon's Seal plants with one crossing over the other. Photos taken 6 September 2010.

Dark blue berries dangle from the arching single stem. Oval, linear leaves alternate from side to side, each being connected to the main stem directly. This type of stalkless leaf, one without a stem of its own, is called sessile.

Looking down on the blue berries.
Looking down on the blue berries.

The berries were about a half-inch in diameter. This surprised me for some reason. I thought they’d be small and delicate like their greenish-white flowers. See an earlier post on the Solomon’s Seals flowers.

Side-view of dangling, blue berries of Solomon's Seal.
Side-view of dangling, blue berries of Solomon's Seal.

Solomon’s Seal Smooth Giant False and Starry

The group of Solomon’s Seal plants look similar, especially early in the year when the greenery is just coming up. They all have parallel-veined leaves along a single arching stem and six-pointed flowers.

The plants themselves are different enough to warrant being placed in two different genera. At one time the Solomon’s Seals were all considered members of the Lily Family, Liliaceae. Further research resulted in their classification as members of the Ruscaceae Family, but that is now in question.

Naming and classifying plants is not an easy task as there are several plant taxonomy systems that one might follow. Here at wildeherb we tend to follow the old Cronquist system with its major divisions of Monocots and Dicots, but we do take efforts to highlight accepted newer names for our vegetative friends.

Blossoms tell the story as far as which plants belong to which species. After all flowers are the reproductive parts of the plant. The central idea of a species is that members of a species will be able to reproduce the next generation. Species are isolated from one another by not being able to cross breed or interbreed to produce viable offspring. Hybrid species can be formed, but they do not contribute to the furthering of either parent species.

Comparing flowers, or deciding which plants are of the same species, often comes down to comparison of the floral parts. A case in point is Whorled Pogonia, a native orchid that we were lucky enough to see blooming in 2010 here on the mountain top.

Another example where we need to compare floral parts to for sure distinguish the species from each other are the Solomon’s Seals. The leaves for these related plants could be described as linear, entire, oval shaped leaves having a short tip and arranged alternately along a single arching stem.

Flower placement is axial or terminal in the Solomon’s Seals. Axial flowers hang down from the leaf axils in two Polygonatum species. Terminal flowers grow at the tips of the arching stems in two Maianthemum species.

Smooth Solomon’s Seal, P. biflorum, and Giant Solomon’s Seal, P. canaliculatum, have flowers that dangle from the leaf axils. Smooth Solomon’s Seal has typically two yellow-green bell-shaped flowers per leaf axil. Giant Solomon’s Seal has the same type of flower as Smooth, but they’re usually in a small cluster of 2-10 flowers. Also, the stature of Giant is usually much bigger than Smooth.

Smooth Solomon's Seal with its dangling axial flowers.
Smooth Solomon's Seal with its dangling axial flowers.

Photo above taken 30 April 2010.

False Solomon’s Seal, M. racemosum, and False Starry Solomon’s Seal, M. stellatum, have their blossoms at the tip of the single arching stem. False Solomon’s Seal has a branched cluster of a few dozen small white blossoms. False Starry Solomon’s Seal has fewer, but larger, flowers and they come right off the main stem with no branching.

False Solomon's Seal with its terminal cluster of flowers.
False Solomon's Seal with its terminal cluster of flowers.

Photo above taken 31 May 2007.

Fruits are somewhat different among the Solomon’s Seals, but we’ll have to wait a while for them to turn from green into their final colors before making comparisons.

Incidentally, if you’re using an older wild plant guide the Maianthemum species are probably labeled as Smilacina species. False Solomon’s Seal may be listed as S. racemosa and False Starry Solomon’s Seal may be called S. stellata.

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Rolled Leaves of False Solomon’s Seal Unfurl One By One

Finding a plant that you’ve never seen before can be exciting and even exhilarating, depending on the rarity of the plant and the likelihood of ever seeing it again – and on the efforts taken to observe such a thing. Finding a plant that you already know, but haven’t seen in the flowering or fruiting stage, or locating a flower in a new location can be just as exciting.

Once you’re familiar with some perennial plants, and if you know where a perennial plant comes up in the Spring, you can watch these plants change through the seasons. The same can be said for planting annuals by seed.

A fun project to do with interested children is to keep a photographic record by clicking a few photos each week as your plants develop. Compare the growth of your plant by comparing photos as you go along. You might learn a thing or two about your favorite perennial or wild herb.

A fairly common plant of our mixed-hardwood forest is a flowering herbaceous plant called False Solomon’s Seal, Smilacina racemosa. It’s noted for its similarity to Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum biflorum, except for its terminal flower stalk and lack of dangling bell-shaped flowers.

Leaves of both False Solomon’s Seal and Solomon’s Seal are linear-veined oval leaves that alternate along a single arched stem. As the plant emerges from the ground the leaves are already forming.

False Solomon's Seal leaves sprouting from the ground.
False Solomon's Seal leaves sprouting from the ground.
A closer look at the twisted stalks of False Solomon's Seal emerging from the ground.
A closer look at the twisted stalks of False Solomon's Seal emerging from the ground.

The twisted stalks of the perennial False Solomon’s Seal coming up at base of an oak tree.

Frontal view of False Solomon's Seal leaves unfurling.
Frontal view of False Solomon's Seal leaves unfurling.

Leaves are rolled together at first and unfurl as the plant stalk grows, about 8 – 12 inches tall in these images, taken 2 May 2010. The main reason we can confidently state these are False Solomon’s Seal plants is that we’re familiar with these perennials that come up in the same place each Spring.