Maianthemum racemosum, the treacleberry, feathery false lily of the valley, false Solomon's seal, Solomon's plume or false spikenard, is a species of flowering plant native to North America. It is a common, widespread plant with numerous common names and synonyms, known from every US state except Hawaii, and from every Canadian province and territory (except Nunavut and the Yukon), as well as from Mexico.
It is a woodland herbaceous perennial plant growing to 50–90 cm (20–35 in) tall, with 7-12 alternate, oblong-lanceolate leaves 7–15 cm (2.8–5.9 in) long and 3–6 cm (1.2–2.4 in) broad. The leaf bases are rounded to clasping or tapered, sometimes with a short petiole. The leaf tips are pointed to long-tipped.
Seven to 250 small flowers are produced on a 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) panicle that has well-developed branches. Each flower has six white tepals 3–6 mm (0.12–0.24 in) long and is set on a short pedicel usually less than 1 mm long. Blooming is mid-spring with fruiting by early summer. The plants produce fruits that are rounded to 3-lobed and green with copper spots when young, turning red in late summer.
The Latin specific epithet racemosum means "with flowers that appear in racemes", which can cause confusion as the inflorescence is a panicle; it is the individual branches of the panicle that have flowers arranged in a raceme.
The Flora of North America recognizes two subspecies; Maianthemum racemosum subsp. amplexicaule (Nuttall) LaFrankie and Maianthemum racemosum subsp. racemosum. They are geographically separated, with subsp. amplexicaule a western subspecies and subsp. racemosum found in the east, with some overlap in the central states. The western plants (subsp. amplexicaule) have erect stems and leaves with a clasping, rounded base and upper leaves with tips with short points. The eastern subspecies (subsp. racemosum) tends to have arching stems, leaves with a short petiole and upper leaf-tips with an extended point 12–25 mm long. Phylogenetic analyses however show there to be molecular differences and those differences, combined with the geographical separation and morphological differences suggest that these should be considered separate species: Maianthemum amplexicaule (Nutt.) W.A. Weber for the western species and Maianthemum racemosum (Linnaeus) Link for the eastern.
Maianthemum racemosum is a widespread species, found in all Canadian provinces and territories except the Yukon and Nunavut; all US states except Hawaii and also found in Northern Mexico. Subsp. amplexicaule has been found in western Canada in Alta, B.C., N.W.T., Sask.; and in the western US in Alaska, Ariz., Calif., Colo., Idaho, Mont., Nev., N.Mex., N.Dak., Oreg., S.Dak., Tex., Utah, Wash., Wyo. Also found in Mexico, in Chihuahua, Coahuila and Veracruz. The eastern subspecies (subsp. racemosum) is found in Canada from Manitoba, east and in all eastern US states. Both subspecies are found in the Dakotas and in Texas.
Habitat and ecology
Maianthemum racemosum grows in habitats in North America up to elevations of 9,000 ft (2,743 m). The most robust and profuse occurrences of this plant are typically found in partial shade and deep, moist, soft soils. In the western part of North America an example typical habitat would be in a shaded ravine or riparian corridor with common understory associates of Dryopteris arguta, Trillium ovatum and Adiantum jordanii.
The plant, like the closely related Polygonatum (Solomon's seal), is suitable for cultivation in moist, humus-rich soil in a woodland setting or in dappled shade. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
The plant becomes fibrous and bitter after it completes flowering and seed setting stages but the young shoots, while still tender and stripped of their leaves, can be simmered in water and eaten. Their delicate flavor is somewhat reminiscent of asparagus. Although the young shoots are edible, young, Maianthemum racemosum closely resembles members of the genus Veratrum, a highly toxic plant to which it is distantly related, or baneberry. Consequently, this plant should not be consumed unless identification is positive and should not be collected unless they are obviously abundant.
Ojibwa harvested the roots of this plant and cooked them in lye water overnight to remove the bitterness and neutralize their strong laxative qualities. Native Americans boiled the roots to make tea for medicinal purposes, including to treat rheumatism, kidney issues, and wounds and back injuries.
M. r. subsp. amplexicaule fruit, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
M. r. subsp. amplexicaule, Olympic National Park
- Maianthemum stellatum, also known as false Solomon's seal
- Polygonatum biflorum, Solomon's seal
- Polygonatum commutatum, Solomon's seal
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