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Lily of the Valley a Beautiful Cottage Garden Plant

Updated on August 9, 2015

Lily of the Valley in Flower



" And sheds her lasting perfume, but for which we had not known there was a thing so sweet, his among the gloomy shade"--{Hurdis}

Convallaria majalis the beautiful Lily of the valley, belong to the Order of plants known as the Asparagales. They are placed in the Family Asparagaceae and the sub-family Nolinoideae. They are members of the genus Convallaria. In their natural habitat they are confined for the greater part to woods and are distributed in the north temperate zone in Europe.

The genus name of Convallaria means a valley while the specific name of majalis alludes to the flowering period of May. It is perhaps much better known as a garden species that thrives in shady corners.


The roots of this species are fibrous extending a little way below the soil but may spread to a considerable distance.The foliage is of a radical nature and the aerial stem is but a flowering stem. The leaves are some what lanceolate produced in pairs, they are stalked and erect, smooth,veined and of a bright green colour.

The leaf stalks are round. They may, in form, and before the flowers of the two species are produced, be confused with those of the wild garlic {ramsons}, which occur at the same season. However, the foliage of the wild garlic has the unmistakable pungent odour of garlic.

Components of the plant

illustration courtesy of Kohler's medizinal pflanzen
illustration courtesy of Kohler's medizinal pflanzen

Description continued stem and flowers

The scape or flowering stem is lateral, as long as the leaves, naked smooth, erect, and semi-cylindrical. The bracts are leaf-like organs and membranous beneath each flower. The flowers are drooping racemes, white bell shaped. The segments of the corolla are turned back. The fruit is a red berry.

Lily of the valley grow to the height of six inches or just over and produce the flowers in May and June. Being perennial it may be propagated by means of dividing the under ground stems. the flowers do not contain honey but do contain much pollen and in the tissue a sweet sap, which attracts numerous insects. The flowers are homgamous, anthers and stigma being ripe together, or the anthers first, and in the absence of insects they are capable of self pollination.

When the flower expands, the stigma , longer than the anthers, is already covered with long papillae or wart like structures, before the anthers are mature. However, if the anthers are ripe and rubbed over it, little pollen adheres, when they have opened the stigma is sticky and pollen adheres to it.

The flowers are pendulous and bees cling on ,and thrust the head and foreleg into the bell, touching the stigma first with pollen from another flower. It sweeps the pollen with the 'brushes' of the forelegs into baskets, and dusts its head with pollen, which is carried to the next flower. The stigma is three lobed, and the anthers stand close to it.

The fruit of the lily of the valley is a rounded berry, which is red when ripe, and falls to the ground, but may be rarely dispersed by birds. The plant generally grows in wide patches indicating that it is mainly increased by its own agencies.

Lily of the valley and Medicine

The following notes are for historical interest only and not meant as being recommended for medicinal purposes. Lily of the valley is poisonous and should never be used as a medicinal preparation for internal use.

The flowers are fragrant when the fresh but when dried they become somewhat narcotic. Powdered the plant is said to induce sneezing. It was used as a purgative, and bitter as aloes when an extract from the root is prepared.

William Coles like many others of his time believed in the 'Doctrine of signatures}. There was, it was believed, in every plant a divine sign either in the manner of the form or by the colour, gave an indication of the disease the plant was meant to cure. In the case of this species by their 'signature ' were assumed to be specific in apoplexy, for he stated " As the disease is caused by the dropping of humours into the ventricles of the brain, so the flowers of this lily, hanging on the plants as if they were drops are of wonderful use herein"

When dried and powdered, in order to promote sneezing, and an extract was made by distillation which is bitter and a purgative. This was the celebrated aqua-aurea, which was in archaic times held in high repute, as a preventative of infection from the plague. It was also esteemed, but with little scientific reasoning evidence, as a remedy for nervous disorders, being for the purpose made into a conserve.

Quaities---The root exhales a pleasant odour, although different from that of the flowers. It is sweetish to the taste at first, but afterwards disagreeably bitter. " The infusion of the flowers is very bitter, somewhat acrid and nauseous, of an orange colour, becoming red when saturated with sulphate of iron" {Bergius}

Medicinal qualities----The flowers are admitted to the first rank of cephales, and, in addtion are said to be deobstruent and diuretic. For their celphalic and nervine properties they are employed, reduced to powder, as an errhine in apoplexy, epilepsy, coma and vertigo, and for other qualities, given internally in a variety of complaints, but they should never be administered when there is any inflammatory disposition of the brain.

It should not be forgotten the use of this plant in the cosmetic and perfume manufacture. the scent has long been a favourite, which has been employed in soap, powders and many other bathroom products.

The red berry like fruit of the lily of the valley


Lily of the valley and the garden

As a garden plant they are familiar and well known by gardeners. If the root-stock is planted in the front row of a shrubbery, where they will get shade and moisture, they will generally take care of themselves, and increase year on year. An annual top dressing will be all the care that is necessary.

Although , lily among thorns, lily conval, may blossoms, may lily, Mugwet valleys.they can be grown from seed, the simplest way is to take up the root stocks and separate the crowns. Those that are ready to flower the following season may be identified by their greater thickness. they can be potted and 'forced' as required in December and January.

This little plant is tough even though the white bells appear to be delicate, it is one of the few garden species that will thrive in tree shade. it is a lime loving plant flourishing best on a lime soil, but requiring humus. The leaves may be attacked by Aecidium conavallarie { a rust fingi}, and by a fly Parallelomna albipes. The plant is also known by other names such as Conval lily, Great park, May and wood lily, and Mugwet valleys.

it was said that at St. Leaonards it sprang from the blood of St. Leonard who, encountering a mighty warm or 'fire-drake' in the forest, fought it three days and was at last victor, but was badly wounded, and wherever his blood flowed lily of the valley appeared. It was regarded as a symbolic of the return of happiness, and as to its perfume of sweetness Keat says "No flower amid the garden fairer grows than the sweet lily of the the lowly vale the queen of flowers"

" To the curious eye

A little monitor presents her page,

Of choice instruction, with her snowy bells-

The lily of the vale, She not affects

The Public walk, nor gaze of noon day sun;

She to no state of dignity aspires,

but silent and alone puts on her suit"

Some of the species

Convallaria majalis 'Albostriata' has striped leaves and there are other variegated types such as C.Majalis, 'green tapestry' and 'Hardwick Hall'.

C. majalis 'Flore peno' is very popular and produces double flowers.

C.majalis ' rosea' has pink flowers.

Garden variety 'Pleno' is a double flowered variety



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      aviannovice, Hi Deb, thank you for your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

      timorous , as you say the flowering period is quite short but they do last longer in the shady situations. The leaves are very strong growing through almost any obstacle their way. Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you.

    • timorous profile image

      Tim Nichol 

      5 years ago from Me to You

      Lily of the valley are beautiful. It's too bad the flowering only lasts a couple of weeks in the spring. The smell can be quite pungent, depending on the growing conditions. Last fall was the first time I've see the red berries. Around here, that's pretty rare.

      Another odd habit is: those pointy leaves are so strong, they can push up through asphalt driveways.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are truly lovely. I have seen many in the wild.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      prasetio, the pictures are stunning and I am glad you enjoyed them as much as I did. Thank you for your kind comments also.

      DDE, Thank you once again for visiting and for leaving your usual appreciated comments.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I have never seen that lily so beautiful like the pictures above. Wow...I really impressed with this flower. I can't blink my eyes though for a while. Thanks for sharing with us. Voted up :-)


    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A beautiful plant and flower with such great benefits and so interesting to read about. I had no idea of the berries of this plant most informative and useful.


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