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University of Illinois Extension

2013 Perennial Plant of the Year

February 11, 2013

URBANA -- Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum,' also known as variegated Solomon's seal, striped Solomon's seal, fragrant Solomon's seal, and variegated fragrant Solomon's seal, is the Perennial Plant Association's 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"This all-season perennial has greenish-white flowers in late spring and variegated foliage throughout the growing season," said Martha Smith. "The foliage turns yellow in the fall and grows well in moist soil in partial to full shade."

The name Polygonatum comes from poly (many) and gonu (knee joints) and refers to the many-jointed rhizome from which the leaves arise. "There are several explanations for the common name, Solomon's seal," Smith said. "One is that the scar that remains on the rootstock after the leaf stalks die in the fall resembles the seal impressed on wax on documents in the past. Another, proposed by the English plantsman John Gerard, is that the powdered roots were an excellent remedy for broken bones. Solomon's seal thus refers to the perennial's property of sealing wounds."

The plant is native to Europe and Asia and is a member of the Asparagaceae family; it was formerly in the Liliaceae family. Regardless of its classification, members of Polygonatum are excellent perennials for the landscape.

Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' grows to 18 to 24 inches tall and will spread by its rhizomes to form colonies. The oval-shaped leaves are carried on upright, arching, unbranched stems. Pairs of small, bell-shaped white flowers with green tips are borne on short pedicels from the leaf axils underneath the arching stems. The flowers appear in late spring and have a sweet fragrance. Bluish-black berries sometimes appear in the autumn.

"Variegated Solomon's seal is a classic beauty for the shady woodland garden or the part-shade to full-shade border," said Smith. "It is a great companion plant to other shade lovers, including hostas, ferns, and astilbes, offering vivid highlights that echo the color of many neighboring plants. Flower arrangers will find the variegated foliage to be an attribute for spring floral arrangements. And, finally, this all-season perennial offers yellow fall foliage color."

Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' is a very easy perennial to grow and will enhance any shade garden, especially a more natural one. There are no serious insect or disease problems associated with it. Plants may be divided in the spring or fall. The white rhizomes should be planted just below the soil surface.

"This is a tough plant that survives where many dare not grow," she said.

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News source/writer: Martha A. Smith, 309-756-9978, smithma@illinois.edu

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