Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum (or 'ladder of heaven') is a perennial with graceful, arching stems with pleated oval leaves that are paired along their length. These are joined by lightly scented, green-tipped, white bell-like flowers in May and June, followed by black berries.
Britain has three native species of Solomon's seal: Polygonatum multiflorum, P. odoratum and P. verticillatum. Solomon's seal has been grown in British gardens for centuries – Polygonatum x hybridum is most commonly grown. Double-flowered forms, upright or variegated varieties are also available.
The word 'polygonatum' is derived from the ancient Greek for 'many knees', inspired by the jointed rhizomes from which the plants grow. The common name Solomon's seal has many suggested origins – one theory is that it is inspired by the mark where the stem emerges from the rhizome, which looks like two interlocked triangles, the symbol of the biblical figure Solomon.
Solomon's seal grows best in shadier areas of the garden and in woodland settings, where, if undisturbed, it will naturalise and form clumps. It looks good with other shade lovers such as ferns, hostas, hellebores, corydalis, bleeding heart and lily of the valley, to which it is closely related. It's a much-loved plant for flower arranging. Most parts of the plants (especially the berries) are poisonous and should not be consumed.
How to grow Solomon's seal
For the best results, grow Solomon's seal in dappled or partial shade, in humus-rich, moist but well drained soil. Mulch in spring and cut back in autumn. If clumps become too large, divide them in early spring.
Solomon's seal: jump links
- Planting Solomon's seal
- Caring for Solomon's seal
- Propagating Solomon's seal
- Growing Solomon's seal: problem-solving
- Varieties of Solomon's seal to grow
Where to grow Solomon's seal
Grow in any fertile, humus-rich and moist soil. Solomon's seal is a woodland plant so does best in dappled, partial or full shade. It will grow in sun but strong midday sun in summer may scorch the leaves. The shoots that emerge from the rhizomes are easily damaged if trodden on, so plant in a place that can remain undisturbed. If the plant is happy, it will spread, but it is not invasive.
How to plant Solomon's seal
Plant Solomon's seal from young plants in spring. You can also buy plants 'in the green' in spring, or order rhizomes online that are usually delivered from late autumn – plant as soon as you receive them, just below the soil surface. Mulch with well-rotted manure, leaf mould or garden compost and water well until established.
Caring for Solomon's seal
Mulch with garden compost, leaf mould or well-rotted manure in spring. Ensure that the soil is kept moist in summer. Cut down to the base in late autumn. Over time Solomon’s seal will spread; if it's taking up too much room, divide the clumps every few years, in early spring.
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How to propagate Solomon's seal
Propagate Solomon's seal by dividing it in early spring, taking care not to damage the young shoots. Chop the rhizomes into sections, making sure each one has a bud. Replant immediately, around 5cm deep, or pot into a small pot filled with multipurpose compost to give away.
Growing Solomon's seal: problem solving
Solomon's seal sawfly
The grey, caterpillar-like larvae of Solomon's seal sawfly (Phymatocera aterrima) can shred the leaves of Solomon's seal in June and July, usually after the plant has flowered. While the problem can be severe and can look unattractive, it does not kill the plant. Be vigilant for signs of the larvae in late spring, and pick any off that you see. Encourage natural predators, such as birds, into your garden. It is not advisable to use pesticides, as these will also kill beneficial insects.
Slugs love to munch on the emerging shoots in spring, so be sure to protect your plant.
Varieties of Solomon's seal to grow
Polygonatum odoratum 'Red Stem'
Attractive red stems. The stems and foliage remain eye-catching throughout the season, and attractive black berries develop after the flowers have faded.
Height x Spread: 60cm x 45cm
Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Betberg’
A cultivar that first appeared after it was given to plantswoman Beth Chatto by Isbert Preussler, who collected it from the Black Forest in Germany. The stems and leaves are a rich bronze-purple as they emerge, gradually changing to green.
H x S: 80cm x 40cm
Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’
A striking variety with green leaves bearing cream margins.
H x S: 45cm x 30cm