Cutting King Solomon

Solomon’s Seal: I wanted some before I even knew what it looked like. In the plant world, the common names can be wonderfully descriptive, like Wisteria Snow Showers, Baby’s Breath (what poet came up with that one!) or Devil’s Paintbrush. But what kind of plant—and a lowly groundcover, at that—would warrant such a turbo-charged Biblical name?

The Riverside Park Fund had dropped off a dozen of them for my garden, and hid them behind the bushes where they awaited transplant. They resembled a steroidal Lily of the Valley—two feet tall, with dangling, fragrant, bell-shaped flowers. They were new to me, but soon I was spotting them everywhere; a particularly lush crop sits along the Park Drive near the reservoir. And online, I discovered they were sold out at White Flower Farm, that holy of holies in the nursery biz. One of the horticulturists there said that its recent popularity might be due to a trend toward “greener, easy-care native species.” Take that, fussy hybrids!

As for the origin of the name, only King Solomon would know. One theory is that, when you cut into the rhizome, or rootstalk, the scar forms a hexagram—a little green Star of David. Another, according to Gerarde’s Herbal, a horticultural index from 1633, is that if you rub the root on a wound, it “taketh away in one night, or two at the most, any bruise, black or blew spots gotten by falls or womens wilfulnesse, in stumbling upon their hasty husbands fists, or such like ….” Sounds like a perfect plant to me.