False — and true — Solomon’s seal

Solomon's seal groupHere’s a plant which seems so easy to identify when walking in the woods — Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum).  Let’s look at this plant through a number of its life stages.  (Click on any photo to get a larger, easier-to-see-the-details view.)

Solomon's seal

Coming up in the spring

Solomon's seal tip with flower bud

Developing flower buds (visible close to stem)

Solomon's seal

New flower buds along underside of stem (stem being held upright for photo purposes)

Solomon's seal

Flowers blooming

Solomon's seal

Flowers blooming (with rounded shape at base hinting at berry development)

Solomon's seal

Dying flowers with tiny stems remaining on left (from previous flowers)

Solomon's seal

Solomon's seal with green developing berries (hanging below stem)

Solomon's seal

Closer view of developing berries

Solomon's seal

Close-up view of Solomon's seal berries (still green)

Solomon's seal

Fully ripe Solomon's seal berries (dark blue-purple color)

Solomon's seal

Solomon's seal with fall coloration (yellow leaves)

Solomon's seal

Closer view of yellow leaves and stem (with tiny stems from missing berries)

For those of you interested in medicinal and/or edible plants, Solomon’s seal can be used both for food and for medicine.  Here’s an article outlining those uses.

Now, let’s turn to a “looks similar” plant — False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum).  As you can see when you review the photos below of its life stages, the leaves look the same as Solomon’s seal.  The biggest difference — which makes for easy identification — is the fact that False Solomon’s seal has flowers at the end of its stem.  This is in contrast to Solomon’s seal which has flowers and berries along the underside of the stem.

False Solomon's seal

False Solomon's seal plants coming up in the spring

False Solomon's seal group

False Solomon's seal group of plants in spring

False Solomon's seal

Developing flower cluster at end of stem

False Solomon's seal

Close-up view of developing flower cluster

False Solomon's seal

Flowers getting ready to open

False Solomon's seal

Flowers blooming on False Solomon's seal

False Solomon's seal

Flowering group of False Solomon's seal plants

False Solomon's seal

Flowers dying back and beginning process of making berries

False Solomon's seal

Berries on the False Solomon's seal (golden color)

False Solomon's seal

Two plants -- with berries from right plant resting on leaves of left plant (note empty berry stems on left plant)

False Solomon's seal

Fall color of leaves and stem on False Solomon's seal

False Solomon’s seal has been used medicinally although it does not seem to be as well documented as Solomon’s seal.  The berries of False Solomon’s seal are reportedly edible and also are red according to some other sources.  I have not seen the red berries — probably because the wildlife eats them before they get to that stage.

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26 Responses to False — and true — Solomon’s seal

  1. Claire Mandeville says:

    Thank you for the amazingly detailed pix and descriptions. I think this blog is one of the best-kept secrets on the internet. Surely anyone looking for detailed info on False Solomon’s seal (or any other plant for that matter) would be so grateful to access this site. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time!

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  4. Felix says:

    Thank you, this is a lovely blog, very useful.

  5. Tina says:

    Thank you so much!!! I have wanted to know which one I had, and with your details with pics, I know for sure that I have the true Solomon’s Seal.

  6. Monica says:

    Thanks so much! The detail of your pictures is wonderful! And very helpful! Showed me exactly what I needed to know. Very helpful. Thanks again. 🙂

  7. Josephine Downing says:

    Thanks so much for the information and all the detail. I’ve passed it on to my daughter. She thanks you too!

  8. lou says:

    I’ve been trying to get a decent description of the difference, and you made it complete and easy to remember.

  9. Jamie walker says:

    Thank you for filling in all of the important details that other sites seem to dismiss or completely ignore.
    I haven’t perused your site yet but if the rest is anything like this, I know I am going to be coming back often.
    I will contribute and support your work as well when I am able.

  10. William Brendgard says:

    As a scouting parent I used your site to prepare my presentation on plant identification for Boy Scouts adult training class. You are helping to keep this a fascinating topic. Thoreau was right. Nature will bear the closest inspection.

  11. Vitalia says:

    I found some false salomons seal today when I was gathering some rose hips and sage and yes the berries are red!! They are edible but you shouldn’t eat too many as it can disturb digestion a bit

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  13. Kris Olsson says:

    yes, but what about how to tell the difference without flowers or fruits? Which is most the time you encounter these plants…

    • Angelyn says:

      I have found that if the plants are mature, they will usually have either tiny stems hanging below the leaves (Solomon’s seal) or dried stalks projecting from the tip of the plant (False Solomon’s seal). That’s the only way I know to tell them apart at “off” seasons of the year.

  14. Aimee Winslow says:

    I have had a strange thing happen in my garden. I planted Solomon’s Seal there a few years ago, but they have been replaced with the false ones. I cannot figure out how this has happened. I have known the difference for years, would NEVER intentionally plant the false, as the ones I originally planted were rescued from an old crumbling foundation site. I thought perhaps I had snagged a stray root of the false but it has not happened in any other places I’ve had the true ones. (They move when I do! I love them.) Any thoughts on this weirdness? Thank you! Your pictures are incredible by the way!

  15. Judy says:


    Thank you for the outstanding clarification on these two similar looking plants. We have both growing here, but I was unsure what the true Solomon’s Seal was until, that is, now. You are correct that the false SS has red berries, at least in our area of Michigan. They are whitish with tiny red dots when young and mature to a solid somewhat translucent red. Lovely!

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  17. Thanks for the useful guide and clear photos. We have lots of Solomon’s Seal here in Finland. I found your page while researching its uses by herbalist and foragers because I had been told to be careful.

  18. spcbilling says:

    I’ve eaten one berry. Is it a myth about their effects if in quantity? I do wonder who’s eaten how many and what the effect was.

    • Jeff Bishop says:

      I frequently eat the False Solomon’s ripe red berries. I eat about ten at a time being careful to spit out the hard seeds. I spit them where I think they might sprout. They have the flavor of slightly tart molasses and are quite good. I have never had any side effects, but never eat large quantities. I enjoy them for over a month in the fall until they are all eaten up. The animals never seem to eat them here. The juice is bright red and staining,,, maybe another use for this plant…. I’m curious about the nutritive qualities, I’m sure they have beneficial properties.

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  21. Susan says:

    Love the pictured comparison of the two plants. Thanks so much!

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