Northern Shade Gardening

Giant Solomon’s Seal

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 Category: Perennials
Polygonatum commutatum giganteum (giant solomon's seal)

Polygonatum commutatum giganteum (giant solomon's seal) double flowers

Giant Solomon’s seal produces lovely arching stems, from which the little flowers dangle in the spring. Their tolerance of shade makes them a welcome plant under the trees.

This perennial is listed as either Polygonatum commutatum, Polygonatum giganteum or P. biflorum var. commutatum. I’m not sure which is the most up to date scientific name, but my favourite is ‘giganteum’. It conjures up images of these little flowers dangling at eye height. So far mine are only 45 cm (1  and  ½ feet) tall, so I had to squat to take these pictures. Perhaps next year I’ll be standing on tip toe to take them, or perhaps I’m just too easily swayed by a picturesque name. They will have to do some more growing to catch up to the Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern) behind them. However, they have not trouble rising above the lily of the valley. They are supposed to grow over 1.2 m (4 feet). If I straighten the arch they might be 60 cm (2 feet) tall, but that’s cheating, like standing on your tiptoes when you’re getting your height measured. We’ll see if the shade and competition with the  willow allow them to reach their full height in a few years.

Polygonatum commutatum giganteum (giant solomon's seal) single flowers

Polygonatum commutatum giganteum (giant solomon's seal) single flowers

The flowers on these giant Solomon’s seal are hanging down in pairs on half of the plants, two little cream and green blooms, side by side, strung out along the stem.

However, this seems to be a capricious perennial, since some of these Polygonatum have single flowers dangling below the stem, instead of pairs. The nomenclature seems to have confused these plants.  (Am I a biflorum or not? Are you now or have you ever been a commutatum?)

The leaves of giant Solomon’s seal are similar in shape, colour and veining to the lily of the valley, but they are arranged alternately along the curved stem. Each flower comes out from the stem, just a little above each leaf axle. This causes the flowers to be very evenly spaced along the stem.

As they mature, the little flowers flare out on the bottom, with little green petal tips. The arrangement of the flowers, suspended underneath,  and the tight buds flaring out reminds me  of the Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ (white bleeding heart) that are just starting to bloom now.

Polygonatum commutatum or giganteum flared flower

Polygonatum commutatum or giganteum flared flower

The distinctive arched shape of the Solomon’s seal stems make a nice contrast to other plant forms. It makes a counterpoint to the outward curve of the ostrich fern.

Last fall I was planting these perennials past dark, by the light of the motion security light. I was behind the willow, when the light went out. I had one Polygonatum left, and it fell to the ground, losing its stem. In the dark I couldn’t tell which way was up, and made my best guess. It seems to have worked, as they are all up now, and all have multiple stems, a very accommodating plant. The recommended spacing was 1 m (3 feet) apart, and I can see now that they will be filling in the area, even though I didn’t  give each little stem its own 1 metre (1 yard) radius of garden at planting time. The willow tends to diminish the height and width of plants growing underneath it.

Polygonatum commutatum giganteum (giant Solomon's seal) flowers in pairs

Polygonatum commutatum giganteum (giant Solomon's seal) flowers in pairs

Polygonatum giganteum are great plants for the shade garden. The arching branches, with little charms suspended underneath are very appealing. The curving stem arrangements look graceful over shorter plants. I like them next to ferns, so I will be planting more of these attractive perennials.

I’m always looking for tall shade plants. Now if only they would take their ‘Giganteum’ name a little more seriously. Do you have any favourite tall shade plants?

27 Responses to “Giant Solomon’s Seal” »

  1. MNGarden :
    June 16, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Solomon seal has never lived up to my expectations size wise but it is delightful in every other way.
    Donna

  2. Northern Shade :
    June 16, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Donna, I thought the giganteum name was a bit of an oversell, which is hard to live up to. I find the plants delightful too, and I added another group. It will be interesting to see if the different plants end up at different heights in a few years.

  3. teza :
    June 16, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    GIve it time….. if it is the true ‘Giganteum’ they will be close to 5′ in height! Truly majestic plants! I love Darmera peltata and Rodgersia pinnata ‘Chocolate Wings’, but can’t leave out:

    Astilboides tabularis
    Lamium orvala (3 feet tall, not the groundcovers)
    Salvia koyomae (Japanese shade Salvia)
    Syneilesis aconitifolia
    Deinanthe bifida
    Diphylleia cymosa
    Thalictrum ssp.

    (see most of these on the recent post of my blog!)

  4. Helen at Toronto Gardens :
    June 16, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    While not tall in my garden (it might grow taller when not in dry shade), I have the variegated Japanese solomon’s seal, Polygonatum falcatum ‘Variegatum’ (sounds like a line from a nursery song).

    Wish I could grow some of the moist shade lovers. Astilboides tabularis is a stunner, with leaves as big as dinner plates. It’s said to be hardy to USDA Zone 3.

  5. Joanne :
    June 16, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    I do love Solomon’s Seal but it does not do well in our dry garden. In fact I haven’t seen it put in an appearance this year at all.

  6. Northern Shade :
    June 16, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Teza, it will be interesting to see how tall these get then. They are only from last year, so I will give them a few years to show their true height.
    Thanks for the information on your favourite shade plants for height. I did see your Thalictrum photos, and their fluffy plumes would lighten the shade area.

    Helen, your Japanese Solomon’s seal is fun to say out loud, sounding like a medieval Latin chant. I’m quite taken with these plants this spring. I just put a second group between some ferns and astilbe, but I haven’t quite decided which large leafed plant I’m going to put in front.

    Joanne, it’s unfortunate that your Solomon’s seal didn’t return. I will give the ones that are competing with the willow roots an extra drink.

  7. Gail :
    June 16, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I love Soloman’s Seal and spent an afternoon trying to capture and artistic photo of the bells…utter failure but it was fun! Arisaema dracontium is over 3 foot tall in my garden…it’s a wonderful plant and grows in Ontario and Quebec. gail

  8. Northern Shade :
    June 16, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Gail, I love the way the flowers are suspended evenly along the curving stems. I was pleased that each plant sent up 2 or 3 stems this year. I think it will fill the space beautifully.

    I have been very taken with Arisaema since acquiring my first one this year. I will have to check out A. dracontium.

  9. The Garden Ms. S :
    June 16, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    “Last fall I was planting these perennials past dark, by the light of the motion security light”

    This line made me smile, Northern Shade. You are a true gardener :)

    I think your description of the flowers hanging like “little charms” is perfect. I will always think of them this way now.

    This is a truly elegant plant and one I hope to grow. I wonder how it would do under spruce with a little water?

  10. Helen :
    June 17, 2009 at 5:20 am

    I have one of these but didnt know it was called giganteum. It certainly is gigantic this year.

  11. Northern Shade :
    June 17, 2009 at 7:24 am

    The Garden Ms. S, you know what it’s like when you’re on a roll; it’s hard to stop until you’re finished.That’s the great thing about June in Edmonton. The long days give you an extended period to garden in the evening. The sun doesn’t set until 22:06 tonight. :)

    Although I saw Polygonatum in pots, and in pictures, it wasn’t until I grew it in the garden that I really appreciated how graceful it looks with its different form next to other perennials. Joanne mentioned that it hasn’t done as well in dry shade. I’m not sure how much supplemental water it would need under spruce. Mine are doing fine under the willow, but I water them with the hose.

    Helen, there seems to be a discussion about whether it should be classified as a variation of P. commutatum or as P. giganteum. I would like mine to grow tall too. How tall is yours? I will have to give them a little self help pep talk, “Everyday in every way, I’m growing taller and taller.”

  12. Susan :
    March 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Any idea on where I can purchase solomon’s seal? I live in the Okanagan in Bc.

  13. Northern Shade :
    March 17, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Susan, I purchased mine from local greenhouses in Edmonton. However, Fraser’s Thimble Farms which are on Salt Spring Island, have a dozen different types of solomon’s seal (see the Polygonatum halfway down the page), and they do mail orders. I bought other perennials and bulbs from them last year and was pleased with them.

  14. capi :
    March 28, 2010 at 6:43 am

    Several years ago I lived in a home which had tall, six foot solomon’s seal outside one of the bedroom windows on the north side of the house. I didn’t know enough then to dig some and take it with when I moved out.
    I have been looking for this tall variety ever since. From my experience, the four foot stems never reach this taller height. I believe the true giant variety is different from the get go.

    I’d love to find some…..or buy some starts from anyone who has a stand of the taller variety.

    thank you!
    Cap Huffman

  15. Northern Shade :
    March 28, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Cap, when I purchased these giant solomon’s seal, they were labeled as Polygonatum commutatum ‘Giganteum’, and were supposed to grow 5 feet. They’ve only been in the garden for a year and a half, so they haven’t reaches their full height yet. It might take another few growing seasons until I see if they reach the mature stature of the truly tall ones. I also have some other Polygonatum commutatum that are supposed to grow to 4 feet. These perennials seem to be in that gray area of scientific nomenclature, with changing species and variety names.

  16. yves :
    May 17, 2010 at 5:27 am

    Hi,

    My interest is in edible plants and in China, the ancient Taoists called this plant Huang Jing (Polygonatim Sibericum) It was touted as a replacement for grain(rice, wheat etc) and a better food source from which some hermits lived exclusively on in the mountains.

    I am in Ottawa and would be very interested if any of you would have some Polygonatum rootstock to share – I could pay the canada post fee.

  17. Northern Shade :
    May 17, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Yves, here’s a nursery from BC that ships a wide variety of Polygonatum.

  18. Lizard lady :
    June 28, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I have some growing in front of my veranda. I love it. Seems like it just comes up overnight. Mine isn’t very tall but leans out over my lawn. It gets morning sunshine from the East here. I am planning to transplant some to the back of the house where it is shady but am afraid I might damage it or cause it to die off till next yr, are they hardy enough for transplants whilst in bloom? Mine isnt in full bloom yet. But just ready to open.

  19. Northern Shade :
    June 28, 2011 at 11:52 am

    It’s usually best to wait until after a perennial has bloomed, instead of stressing it in bloom. It also depends on your climate. If it is very hot where you live right now, it will stress the plants as they try to absorb water with a limited root system. If it doesn’t get too hot, and you water them well, they should do okay, especially as you are moving them to the shade.

  20. Lea :
    August 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I have a beautiful centre garden with 4ft or more high plants. Not always in the shade. Plus huge ferns. Need to cut these guys back

  21. Northern Shade :
    August 3, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Lea, the solomon’s seal and large ferns would make a great display in your garden. My solomon’s seal in the shade that get a small amount of direct light and is at the edge of the willow canopy grow taller than the ones directly under the willow.

  22. Rossi :
    December 4, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    I have just discovered the medicinal properties of Solomon’s Seal and would love to grow the plant. However, I live at 9200 ft elevation in Colorado. My growing season is from June to September. Does anybody have experience growing it in cold climates?

  23. Northern Shade :
    December 5, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Rossi, although I’m not at a high elevation, I do garden in a cold climate, where winter temperatures can go to -35° C (-31° F), and the growing season is between May and June. Mine grows fine in a shady location, and is slowly spreading.

  24. Anonymous :
    June 11, 2014 at 10:20 am

    “slowly spreading”! Mine are seeding themselves everywhere and forming big clumps all over the garden. I have to start digging them out because they’re blocking the view of my smaller plantings. I have alkaline silt and my whole garden is part-shade, shade. They do make luscious clumps of green – I just wish they were less aggressive. Madison, WI

  25. Northern Shade :
    June 11, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    #24, I wish mine would spread a little faster. Perhaps the severe Edmonton winters and the location under a large willow have kept them in check.

    I have some shorter plants around them, but the Solomon’s seal tends to arch over top of them, instead of blocking them.

  26. Meredith :
    June 12, 2014 at 8:29 am

    We dug some soil from our woods to help fill a shady retaining wall and the next year Solomon’s Seal started popping up. Now 3 years later they are easily 5 feet tall and spreading nicely. I have another bed where I’d like some but am undecided as to harvesting seeds or digging up some of the rhizomes. The new area is a half circle around an oak tree at the foot of a stone retaining wall. It’s also shady and I’m thinking of underplanting the Solomon’s Seal with bleeding heart, medium height ferns, etc. hoping they play well with each other. Mineral Point, WI

  27. Northern Shade :
    June 12, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Meredith, you might get a quicker start with the rhizomes, but it sounds like the seeds take well to your garden, since you got full sized Solomon’s seal plants within 3 years. Mine have been a little slower in their growth, but they are located under a willow tree, which gives tough competition. I have some of mine next to some Athyrium (lady ferns), and I really like the way they arch over the ferns. I also have some Brunnera macrophylla, Pulmonaria (lungwort) and Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex (double bloodroot). They all so well in a woodland or shady setting.

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