June 23, 2017

What’s in a Name?

Polygonatum biflorum - King Solomon's-Seal

Janine Pineo Photo | Polygonatum biflorum - Giant Solomon's-Seal

Polygonatum biflorum - King Solomon's-Seal

Janine Pineo Photo | Polygonatum biflorum - Giant Solomon's-Seal

Sometimes you know what you are seeing. Then you look it up and find a warren of words. Pictured above is what was identified as Giant Solomon’s-Seal at Littlefield Garden at the University of Maine. No doubt that it was, indeed, Solomon’s-seal. Then you find the poor plant has been tossed around from one family to another to where it is now classified a part of the asparagus family. And if that weren’t confusing enough, even its own name has been changed repeatedly. It might be Polygonatum biflorum (so says Go Botany), it might be Polygonatum commutatum, and it might be a combination of the two: Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum. And the common name could be anything from plain old Solomon’s-seal to Great Solomon’s-Seal to King Solomon’s-Seal to Giant Solomon’s-Seal. Thankfully, the plant knows what it is, happy in its woodland setting and in full bloom in mid-May, a stand of tall, stately arches swaying in the breeze. A shade-lover, this North American native does well in wet soils as long as they are well drained. Methinks a little Shakespearean advice is in order: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”