My photographic curiosity was well-rewarded on my short trip to Vancouver Island over Thanksgiving, a couple months ago. I still haven’t spent much time in those coastal forests, so there’s always something new for me. This time it was both the fruits and the occasionally translucent leaves of Maianthemum dilatatum.
Known as false lily-of-the-valley, this species previously appeared on Botany Photo of the Day just over ten years ago; the previous entry can be revisited for information on its range and growth characteristics. Daniel included photographs of a colony of plants growing up a tree trunk, illustrating how it would typically be seen on the forest floor and complementing my close-up photographs today.
Common in the wet understory of coastal temperate forests, Maianthemum dilatatum typically covers the ground with low-growing heart- or arrow-shaped leaves punctuated by erect racemes with 15 to 40 small white flowers. Sterile shoots will have a single leaf, while fertile ones have two to three. Fruits appear in late summer as immature pale berries with red spots, gradually turning red as they ripen. From the perspective of edibility, the berries are apparently not regarded very highly (especially when compared to the excellent selection of other berries in these forests). However, local indigenous peoples have a traditional use of eating the berries fresh or occasionally preserving for winter.
The leaves and roots are also used in a variety of traditional indigenous medicinal treatments. These faded leaves would presumably have little remaining medicinal use as most nutrients (including from the breakdown of pigments) have been withdrawn down to the roots and rhizomes for winter. Helped by the autumn coastal rains and cool temperatures, enough moisture remains in the pictured leaf to prevent it from desiccating.
The name false lily-of-the-valley originates from its resemblance to Convallaria majalis, known as lily-of-the-valley. This method of naming a plant as a “false” form of another occurs frequently with plant common names. False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum), also native to British Columbia, receives its false moniker due its resemblance to species of Polygonatum, or the Solomon’s seals. Funnily enough, the British Columbia subspecies of false Solomon’s seal is also known as feathery false lily-of-the-valley.