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Lily of the Valley

Updated on June 3, 2008
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.



The lily-of-the-valley, or Convallaria majalis, grows very well in temperate climates. It is native to the more temperate zones of Europe, Asia, and North America. It is distinguished by the beautiful deep green leaves and delicate bell shaped flowers.

Lily-of-the-valley is prized for it's delicate fragrance and beautiful blooms. These flowers are very popular in bridal bouquets because of these attributes. In the language of flowers it symbolizes:

  • Sweetness

  • Tears of the Virgin Mary
  • Return of happiness
  • Humility

In art, and especially in the religious paintings of the Renaissance, the lily-of-the-valley represents humility and the return of Christ.

There is a French legend which tells the story of Saint Leonard. He was supposedly a close friend of the King and lived near Limoges in 550 AD. Although he was known as a fearless fighter, St Leonard wanted to commune with God. He went to the woods to live the life of a hermit. But in those very same woods lived a terrible dragon called Temptation.

Once when Saint Leonard was in deep prayer he did not hear the dragon tell him to leave the woods. A terrible battle raged between Saint Leonard and the dragon until blood, both that of the dragon and that of Saint Leonard, was splattered over the ground. Eventually the dragon was vanquished. Poisonous weeds grew where ever the dragon's blood was splattered but the fragrant lily-of-the-valley grew where the blood of the saint had been spilled.

Lily-of-the-Valley is Poisonous

Historically, a tincture made from the lily-of-the-valley was used to treat cardiac patients. The tincture resembled digitalis in how it worked on the body. It was used to helped regulate the heartbeat and strengthen the muscle of the heart.

This information is for interest only and lily-of-the-valley should not be taken internally. All parts of the plant are poisonous. They are also toxic to animals so call your vet immediately if your cat or dog ingests lily-of-the-valley

Growing Lily-of-the-Valley

Lily-of-the-valley is easy to grow in zones 2-7. It does need a dormant stage, however, so it does not do well where the winters are mild.

In the right location this flower will spread rapidly so choose the planting area carefully. It does best in the shade, on the northern side of a building. Once established it will fragrance your garden in the late spring with prolific blooms.

Plant the pips one inch deep in well drained, well composted soil. Plant in the very early spring or in the fall. Set the pips about four inches apart, and one inch deep, as soon as the ground can be worked.

It can take up to two growing seasons before the plants begin to bloom and may take three years before they bloom profusely. Lily-of-the-valley are propagated by digging up the rhizomes and dividing them in the fall.

These beautiful plants make fantastic Christmas gifts and are easily forced. If they are bought in the fall they can be frozen in the freezer for several weeks. When you are ready to start the plants, thaw them and place in a porous potting mix. Be careful to not let them dry out. If plants are forced they will probably not bloom for several seasons afterward.

Growing, and enjoying the beautiful lily- of- the- valley is a pleasure for many gardeners. With a little care and research the plant becomes so prolific that some people call it a weed. Enjoy the beauty and fragrance of this plant in a shady area of your garden. Growing these small lilies can add a splash of color where other plants just won't grow.


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    • Flolly profile image

      Flolly 4 years ago

      Nice one with that article - well writen and researched.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 9 years ago from Sydney

      I miss lily of the valley. My mother always grew them in shady areas, and I remember the tiny white heads peeking out from the undergrowth. Where I live now, (Sydney), the winters are too mild for it to grow.

    • safetyfirst profile image

      safetyfirst 9 years ago

      Fascinating hub with interesting background. Where'd you find the legend/historical information?

    • jacobworld profile image

      Jakub Wawrzyniak 9 years ago from Ireland

      Flowers can kill . Nice one

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 9 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      Its funny being in bridal decor seeing as its poisonous. Beautiful plant though I did not realise it was poisonous.

      Thanks for sharing