Walk along the wooded, rocky slopes of the Potomac River now and you will see lots of graceful, arching plants with long leaves alternating along a single stem. They might look identical, but there are several different species that can’t be distinguished until they bloom. Depending on which nomenclature system you consult, they may be placed in the Liliaceae (lily family), or Asparagaceae (asparagus family), or even Ruscaceae, formerly known as Convallariaceae… taxonomy, what a headache.
Standing about two feet tall is the very common smooth Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), with 2 or more flowers in a cluster dangling from the leaf axils:
Much less common is great Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum canaliculatum), which can stand as tall as five feet. Note the small trees alongside the plant in the next picture:
The false Solomon’s seals are distinguished by having terminal rather than axillary clusters of flowers. Here’s Maianthemum racemosum in bloom (see May 7 for a dramatic picture of it in bud):
There’s also starry false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum), which I have yet to find.