King ’s Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum kingianum)
A truly unusual Solomon’s seal

Most of us have a clear mental picture of what Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) looks like: a clump of 3-foot-tall arching stems with green-tipped white bells dangling beneath broad leaves. Many of the dozens of species that inhabit North America, Europe, Russia, and Asia do look exactly like this, but when you delve deeper into this genus, your preconceptions will undergo a seismic shift. There are actually evergreen epiphytic species in Vietnam, tiny alpine species at 13,000 feet in Bhutan, and everything in between. King’s Solomon’s seal is arguably the monarch of the bunch with a commanding presence.

Smoky spears of new growth appear in midspring, and as the leaves expand, you know immediately this plant is some- thing special. Slugs home in on this eminence and like logging the newly emerged shoots, so be vigilant in spring to keep them away. Narrow grassy leaf blades soon appear in whorls and are ranked in spoked sets along the stem. The leaves are tipped with small hooks that grasp neighboring twigs for sup- port. This is a necessary adaptation as the stems of a mature plant can reach 10 feet or more in a favorable climate.

Every king has his crown, and the crown jewels in this case are the flowers. Clustered in the leaf axils are groups of pen- dant, orange-red flowers tipped in green. Once they’re polli- nated, the result is sizable green fruits. Grow this regal plant, and you’ll never look at Solomon’s seals the same way. It can take a few years for plants to reach maturity, so be patient. After all, one expects to be kept waiting by royalty.

Fine Gardening magazine has graciously allowed us to post some past Plant Profiles we have authored. We have worked with the magazine for a number of years and more recently in the capacity of contributing editors. The folks at the magazine have been a joy to work with and have been very amenable to our occasional quirkiness and interest in unusual plants. One of the things we appreciate about the staff at FG is they are constantly in motion visiting top gardeners and gardens across the country and then enlisting them to write about the plants and design strategies that light them up. It is no small feat to make a publication contain relevance to any part of the country but they pull it off with each issue.