Is the Dwarf Japanese Solomon’s Seal Dead?

It may seem brutal, but one of the goals for this garden is minimal or no supplementary watering. I posted what I thought was an alarming picture of a beleaguered section of dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal, wondering if the problem was too much sun or too little rain, in another post.

It got worse. We started the year with precipitation well below normal—we had relatively little snow last winter—and then we had periods of entrained rainstorms followed by several sunny, breezy days this spring. It was relentlessly breezy, and sometimes hot as well.

Both the dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal and Iris cristata are shallow-rooted plants. Indeed, Iris cristata has such a minimal root system that I marvel at its toughness. What is going on here? This bed is on the north side of the house, which is off camera to the right. The downspout that collects rain from the northwest corner of the house dumps out at the outer edge of the Iris cristata, again, off camera in the upper half of the photograph and to the right. Those irises are bristling with health!

In front, round-leaved hepatica, looking a little touched by drought, but not bad. Above it, dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal, with more than half the plants gone or yellowed. To the right, in the upper half of this photograph, Iris cristata is completely unperturbed. Photographed on August 5, 2022.

The youngest hepatica is not visible in the photograph above because it has already gone dormant. They seem to have a shorter active period than their older, more established relatives. The wild ginger is also drought-stressed, but it is having a harder time under the smoke bushes than it is under the magnolia or serviceberry, where the only stressed plants are the ones that have grown beyond the shade. 

 On the other hand, the dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal that gets sun most of the day used to be in the shade of a pawpaw. They were extremely unhappy about the time elapsed between rainstorms. They look decimated!

The northwest corner of the dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal. Photographed on August 5, 2022.

The ones that remain standing look a bit sun-bleached. So…are they dead? I decided I better take a much closer look. If you look carefully at the photograph above, you will see there is fruit on the ground. An unusually heavy fruit set is not always a good thing. Sometimes it is the plants’ way of hedging their bets against some sort of tough situation. 

Many of the remaining dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal have a heavy fruit set this year. Photographed on August 5, 2022.

The weather is clearly a problem, but could there be something chewing on those fat roots? Glancing around, a few of the roots are swooping above ground, and are clearly photosynthesizing. They look healthy.

Dead leaves and stems from this spring’s dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal frame a few live, green roots. Photographed on August 5, 2022.

If these are looking OK, what about the rest of the roots? It was worth peeking at the edge. The roots look filled out and healthy. The aboveground plant shut down to preserve the plant in the long term.

A dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal partially lifted for root inspection. Photographed on August 5, 2022.

Clearly, these plants need either some supplementary water when it gets too dry or more shade, or both. We had over an inch of rain in the last couple of days, but I am hoping these plants will act like spring ephemera and stay dormant until next spring. 

The replacement pawpaw is years away from providing adequate shade, so I am considering swapping part of the dwarf Japanese Solomon’s seal with the neighboring Iris cristata that has been getting supplementary roof water. I will likely hold off until next June, after both plants are done blooming, before rearranging anything.