A European native that has made itself quite at home here, Star of Bethlehem can often be found in weedy patches of low grass. Until it blooms, its narrow leaves are hard to distinguish from the grass around them. The six-pointed white flowers are unmistakable, with six yellow-tipped stamens whose flattened “filaments” seem to form a miniature duplicate flower inside the larger one. This plant was blooming in late May beside a gas-station parking lot in Brookline.
Although most traditional references place the Star of Bethlehem in the lily family Liliaceae, modern botanists separate it into the asparagus family Asparagaceae.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
ORNITHÓGALUM [Tourn.] L. STAR OF BETHLEHEM. Perianth of 6 (white) spreading 3-7-nerved divisions. Filaments 6, flattened-awl-shaped. Style 3-sided; stigma 3-angled. Capsule roundish-angular, with few dark and roundish seeds in each cell, loculicidal. — Scape and linear channeled leaves from a coated bulb. Flowers corymbed, bracted; pedicels not jointed. (A whimsical name from ornis, a bird, and gala, milk.)
O. umbellàtum L. Scape 1-2.5 dm. high; flowers 5-8, on long and spreading pedicels; perianth-divisions green in the middle on the outside. — Escaped from gardens. (Introd. from Eu.)
Little green bells dangle from arching stalks, almost invisible unless you look for them. The name “Solomon’s Seal” comes from the six-pointed scar left on the root by the withered stem; the species name “biflorum” refers to the plant’s habit of growing flowers in pairs. This plant was growing along the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel,where it was blooming in early May.
Until flower buds appear, this plant and False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are hard to tell apart. Both have traditionally been placed in the lily family Liliaceae, but modern botanists have separated the Asparagus family Asparagaceae, taking the Solomon’s Seals with it.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
POLYGÓNATUM [Tourn.] Hill. SOLOMON’S SEAL. Perianth cylindrical, 6-lobed at the summit; the 6 stamens inserted on or above the middle of the tube, included; anthers introrse. Ovary 3-celled, with 2-в ovules in each cell; style slender, deciduous by a joint; stigma obtuse or capitate, obscurely 3-lobed. Berry globular, black or blue; the cells 1-2-seeded. — Perennial herbs, with simple stems from creeping knotted rootetocks, naked below, above bearing nearly sessile or half-clasping nerved leaves, and axillary nodding greenish flowers; pedicels jointed near the flower. (Name from poly-, many, and gony, knee, alluding to the numerous joints of the rootstock.)
P. biflòrum (Walt) Ell. (SMALL S.) Glabrous, except the ovate-oblong or lance-oblong nearly sessile leaves, which are commonly minutely pubescent as well as pale or glaucous underneath; stem slender (3-9 dm. high); peduncles 1-3- but mostly 2-flowered; perianth 10-12 mm. long; filaments papillose-roughened, inserted toward the summit of the perianth. (? P. boreale Greene; P. cuneatum Greene; Salomonta biflora Farwell.) — Wooded hillsides, N. B. to Fla., w. to Ont., e. Kan., and Tex.
Also known as Smilacina racemosa, and placed by some botanists in the Asparagus family Asparagaceae; the on-line Flora of North America, however, keeps it among the lilies in Liliaceae.
The plant is sometimes also called “False Spikenard.” It seems a little unfair to call this a “false” anything, and some people prefer to call it a “Solomon’s Plume,” a name one suspects was given to the plant by some amateur botanist as a sort of consolation prize. It is true, however, that the plant is hard to tell from a Solomon’s Seal before the flowers start to appear. Once the distinctive plume of little white flowers appears, there’s no mistaking the difference. These plants were blooming in late May along the Squaw Run Valley in Fox Chapel.
Gray describes the genus Smilacina (nnow usually included in Maianthemum) and the species S. racemosa:
SMILACÍNA Desf. FALSE SOLOMON’S SEAL. Perianth 6-parted, spreading, withering-persistent. Filaments 6, slender; anthers short, introrse. Ovary 3-celled, with 2 ovules in each cell; style short and thick; stigma obscurely 3-lobed. Berry globular, 1-2-seeded, at first greenish or yellowish-white speckled with madder brown, at length a dull subtranslucent ruby red. —Perennial herbs, with simple stems from creeping or thickish rootstocks, alternate nerved mostly sessile leaves, and white, sometimes fragrant flowers. (Name a diminutive of Smilax.)
Flowers on very short pedicels in a terminal racemose panicle; stamens exceeding the small (2 mm. long) segments; ovules collateral; rootstock stout, fleshy.
S. racemosa (L.) Desf. (FALSE SPIKENARD.) Minutely downy (4-10 dm. high); leaves numerous, oblong or oval-lanceolate, taper-pointed, ciliate, abruptly somewhat petioled. (Vagnera Morong.) — Moist copses and banks.