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If you’re a fan of royal weddings, you’ll notice one flower that is consistently the star of the show. And we don’t mean the princess bride. Walking daintily, Queen Victoria, Grace Kelly, and Kate Middleton all used on their wedding bouquets the white, bell-shaped flowers of the Lily of the Valley.
It’s a world-renowned woodland plant with an intoxicating scent that can fill the spring air with a sweet fragrance. You may have even smelled this flower before you saw it in person because cosmetics and perfumes use this as a key ingredient.
The Beauty of the Bell-Shaped Flowers
The Lily of the Valley’s botanical name Convallaria majalis is Latin for “the valley belonging to May.” Rightfully so because it is the flower of the month of May. These white flowers’ history gets even more interesting. One legend talks about a Knight of Sussex named St. Leonard, who the story goes, fought a majestic dragon. Wherever his blood fell, it is said the lily of the valley plants bloomed to serve as a remembrance of his bravery.
Other legends possess Biblical origins. One says that the plant is a representation of the mother Mary’s tears for Jesus Christ. Another legend says that the bell-shaped flowers come from the tears of Eve on the day they were driven out of the Garden of Eden. It is the floral emblem of Yugoslovia, and serves the honor of being Finland’s national flower. And many florist have dubbed the lily of the valley to be one of the world’s most expensive flowers. Interesting, isn’t it?
Today, these white flowers enjoy a spot in many gardens as one of the most useful ground covers for shade. It can provide a lush carpet of green, and blooms in many shades of flower color. If you haven’t met this encountered beauty yet, today is your day!
Fast Facts of the Convallaria Majalis
It may be called a lily, but the C. Majalis is far from it. This herbaceous perennial doesn’t even belong in the lily family. You’ll have a kick at this fact! Sometimes called The Lady’s Tears, May bells, or Mary’s Tears, this flowering plant is a member of the Asparagaceae family which makes it related to the trusty old asparagus plant. It belongs in the same subfamily as other spreading groundcovers like the equally sweet-smelling lilyturf. This flower is native to Europe, Eurasia and parts of North America.
The lily of the valley plants have medium green leaves that grow up to 6-12 inches tall when mature. In the plant’s leaf clumps rise a long stem that displays the blooms of white flowers in the springtime. Later in the fall season, orange-red berries appear. It may possess a dainty and sweet look, but the lily of the valley is also a hardy plant that can easily overtake a large area.
Bloom Time: Spring
Toxicity: Toxic to people and animals
The lily of the valley plants’ typical bloom time is in early parts of spring or in the mid-spring season. They bloom for three to four weeks, something that separates them from other spring perennials. Other cultivars of this plant have a longer bloom time. Colder climates have noted their lily of the valley plants to bloom at a later time and even extend into the early days of summer. If you grow the plants indoors, you can induce the flowering of the lily of the valley flowers throughout any season of the year and enjoy the fragrant scent at home.
There’s some poetry to the fact that the C. Majalis or Lily of the Valley is a poisonous plant. That something so delicate can be extremely toxic is nature’s work of art. But don’t let the C. Majalis toxic properties stop you from adding this to your garden! You just need to gain some understanding of its poisonous properties.
The reason for the Convallaria Majalis toxic quality comes from the 40 different cardiac glycosides in its properties. That’s an organic compound that’s used for congestive heart medicine, but in this form, the toxins can be lethal. All parts of the plant can be dangerous, especially to children and animals. The orange-red fruits that grow out of this plant can be tempting, and sometimes kids may want to eat the berry, so be very careful! Some symptoms include drooling, diarrhea, or nausea. Contact medical assistance immediately if you suspect poisoning.
The good news is, you don’t have to worry about being poisoned just by touching or handling the lily of the valley in your garden. Skin contact will not poison you just as long as you wash your hands before you eat anything. Which you should be doing after any activity in your garden.
Lily of the Valley (C. Majalis) Varieties
The most common type of the Convallaria Majalis plant is the one we often see in bridal bouquets. It has dark green leaves with tiny but fragrant white bell shaped flowers. But this plant also comes in beautiful pink flowers. If you come across some of these less common types, try asking for a rhizome to propagate!
- C. Majalis Rosea – this plant produces rosy pink flowers.
- C. Majalis Albostriata – has a variegated look because of white streaks on the leaves.
- C. Majalis Flore Pleno – flowers longer than the C. Majalis and is a less invasive variety. It has double white flowers which makes it a favorite for many gardeners.
- C. Majalis Fortin’s Giant – this variety has larger flowers than the common lily of the valley. It’s recorded to grow up to 18 inches in height.
- C. Majalis Hardwick Hall – comes with leaves that are outlined with the color yellow.
How To Propagate The Lily Of The Valley
One of the best ways to control the rapid, invasive spread of the lily of the valley is to propagate it! You can divide and transplant it onto containers. The best time to do this is when the plants are dormant, ideally during spring or fall. To be able to separate and replant the plant, first understand how it spreads.
The lily of the valley forms a large colony with rhizomes. These are stems that grown and connect underground. During the summer, the rhizome or stolone produces spiky shoots that grow upright. They are called pips.
When you see upright Lily of the valley stems beautifully growing under a huge tree, know that they are actually connected underground with other pips. They can also spread out through the berries it produces. Each orange-red berries have seeds inside. If a lily of the valley isn’t connected to other plants via the rhizome, they will need to be near other individual plants to grow berries. That’s because the May bells are self-sterile.
To propagate the Lily of The Valley, dig up the clumps and very gently separate the rhizomes. Replant the Convallaria Majalis six inches apart from each other and water frequently.
How To Grow Lily of The Valley Plants
If you decide to grow the lily of the valley in your garden, you have to work on duplicating their native conditions. The Convallaria Majalis is often seen wild in low, wet soil, and swampy patches in the forest. Cultivated for the garden, the lily of the valley thrives best in spots that have partial shade to full shade from the sun.
In fact, when gardeners find a spot in their garden that won’t grow other green plants (often under trees as ground cover), they add the lily of the valley because it’s a sure bet that this perennial will grow.
On most occasions that I’ve seen lily of the valley plants thrive is when the following conditions are met. First, they must have shade from the sun. The soil must be rich and slightly acidic. It must be well-drained soil that’s also moist. Above all, it must have the right amount of space to spread out and grow, or some gardeners also opt to grow them in containers. The lily of the valley is a tough plant, it doesn’t have major issues with diseases, so it is quite capable of overtaking an area and choking up other plants. That’s why constant maintenance and container gardening are necessary options. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, to grow Convallaria Majalis Albostriata in a container inside your home? The possibilities!
Caring for the Lily of the Valley requires just a little bit of effort, nothing more than most garden plants. If you want to enjoy the fragrance and beauty of white flowers during the spring and early summer, apply these care tips.
Although the lily of the valley can manage more sun, you will have to water it frequently to help it survive. A few hours of early morning sun is healthy for the plant, but when the heat and light ramps up, it’s best to give it all the shade it needs. The intensity of the summer sun will cause your Convallaria Majalis to wilt and shrivel. When they get too crispy, you will have to cut back and remove the dried-up leaves. If you live in warmer zones, keep the lily of the valley under full shade.
Remember that the lily of the valley plants prefers soil that is moist but not soggy. Having that understanding should dictate the frequency and discipline of your watering schedule. When there’s been drought or little rainfall, soak the patch thoroughly. But during non-summer seasons, you can let the rain and shade take care of the soil moisture.
While the lily of the valley can grow in many different soil types, including clay soil, soil with good drainage is the most ideal. I personally know gardens with slightly alkaline soil that have healthy lily of the valley plants. But the healthiest and most beautiful white flowers come from gardens with moist, acidic to neutral soil pH. Add organic compost every year to help supplement the soil around your lily of the valley. I recommend a good mulch of 2 inches deep.
Dig up pips during the fall after they’ve been exposed to frosts. Select pips that have the healthiest and thickest roots, plant lily of the valley in a pot, and keep the tips just below the surface of the soil. Give the pot access to bright light and maintain moist soil. In just a few weeks you will be enjoying flowering plants indoors!
Lily of the Valley Flowers in a Vase
If you want to enjoy the plant lily of the valley in a jar or vase as cut flowers, you can do that too! Snip them when the buds are about 25% open. Include some leaves in your floral arrangement. Be sure to change the water of your vase daily, and place it in a cool place.
Is it OK to touch Lily of the Valley?
Yes, it is perfectly safe to touch the lily of the valley. While all parts of the plant are toxic, it is only dangerous when ingested. As a safety measure, always wash your hands after handling the plant and before eating.
How poisonous is the lily of the valley?
All parts of the plant from the seeds to the leaves are in fact dangerous. The lily of the valley contains 40 different cardiac glycosides which are toxic when ingested. This plant also produces a rare amino acid that contributes to its toxicity. Some reported symptoms include drooling, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Severe cases lead to cardiac arrest. These symptoms generally occur 24 hours after eating the plant.
Where should I plant lily of the valley?
The Lily of the Valley is one of the best ground cover and shade plants for any garden. They thrive in partial to full shade situations! They can adapt to full sun but will need plenty of moisture to survive.
Why is Lily of the Valley so expensive?
Florists have put a premium on this white flower because it has a very short lifespan. The enchanting beauty of the flower and its fragrant aroma, the popularity it has among royal weddings, and its availability only in the month of May are other reasons for its price. Some florists have noted that they need to be extra careful and use special wires to arrange the flowers for wedding bouquets.
Perhaps the steep price is enough reason for us to start on digging and grow the wonderful Lily of the Valley!