Lily of the valley

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Lily of the valley
File:Convallaria majalis 0002.JPG
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Nolinoideae
Genus: Convallaria
Species: C. majalis
Binomial name
Convallaria majalis

Lily of the valley, sometimes written lily-of-the-valley,[1] scientific name Convallaria majalis /ˌkɒnvəˈlɛəriə məˈls/,[2] is a sweetly scented, highly poisonous woodland flowering plant that is native throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere in Asia, and Europe.

It is possibly the only species in the genus Convallaria (or one of two or three, if C. keiskei and C. transcaucasica are recognised as separate species). In the APG III system, the genus is placed in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Nolinoideae (formerly the family Ruscaceae[3]). It was formerly placed in its own family Convallariaceae, and, like many lilioid monocots, before that in the lily family Liliaceae.


C. majalis is a herbaceous perennial plant that forms extensive colonies by spreading underground stems called rhizomes. New upright shoots are formed at the ends of stolons in summer,[4] these upright dormant stems are often called pips.[5] These grow in the spring into new leafy shoots that still remain connected to the other shoots under ground, often forming extensive colonies. The stems grow to 15–30 cm tall, with one or two leaves 10–25 cm long, flowering stems have two leaves and a raceme of 5–15 flowers on the stem apex.

The flowers have six white tepals (rarely pink), fused at the base to form a bell-shape, 5–10 mm diameter, and sweetly scented; flowering is in late spring, in mild winters in the Northern Hemisphere it is in early March. The fruit is a small orange-red berry 5–7 mm diameter that contains a few large whitish to brownish colored seeds that dry to a clear translucent round bead 1–3 mm wide. Plants are self-sterile, and colonies consisting of a single clone do not set seed.[6]


C. majalis is a native of Europe, where it largely avoids the Mediterranean and Atlantic margins.[7] An eastern variety, C. majalis var. manschurica occurs in Japan and parts of eastern Asia. A limited native population of C. majalis var. montana occurs in Eastern U.S. .[8] There is, however, some debate as to the native status of the American variety.[9]

Like many perennial flowering plants, C. majalis exhibits a dual reproductive mode by simultaneously producing asexual offspring by vegetative means and sexual offspring via the fusion of gametes.[10]


C. majalis is a plant of partial shade, and mesophile type that prefers warm summers. It likes soils that are silty or sandy and acid to moderately alkaline,[11] with preferably a plentiful amount of humus. The Royal Horticultural Society states that slightly alkaine soils are the most favoured.[12] It is an Euroasiatic and suboceanic species that lives in mountains up to 1,500 m altitude.[13]

C. majalis is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the grey chi. Adults and larvae of the leaf beetle Lilioceris merdigera are also able to tolerate the cardenolides and thus feed on the leaves.[14]


File:C.m. cv. Rosea.JPG
Convallaria majalis var. rosea

There are three varieties that have sometimes been separated out as distinct species or subspecies by some botanists.[15]

  • Convallaria majalis var. keiskei - from China and Japan, with red fruit and bowl-shaped flowers (now widely cited as Convallaria keiskei)[6][16]
  • C. majalis var. majalis - from Eurasia, with white midribs on the flowers
  • C. majalis var. montana - from the U.S., with green-tinted midribs on the flowers

Convallaria transcaucasica is recognised as a distinct species by some authorities, while the species formerly called Convallaria japonica is now classified as Ophiopogon japonicus.[16]

Garden use

Variegated cultivar early in spring
File:C. m. cv. Plena.JPG
Double-flowered Convallaria majalis

Convallaria majalis is sometimes grown in gardens for its scented flowers and ground-covering abilities in shady locations. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[17] In favourable conditions it can form large colonies.

Various kinds and cultivars are grown, including those with double flowers, rose-colored flowers, variegated foliage and ones that grow larger than the typical species.[16]

  • C. majalis 'Albostriata' has white-striped leaves
  • C. majalis 'Green Tapestry', 'Haldon Grange', 'Hardwick Hall', 'Hofheim', 'Marcel', 'Variegata' and 'Vic Pawlowski's Gold' are other variegated cultivars[16]
  • C. majalis 'Berlin Giant' and C. majalis 'Géant de Fortin' (syn. 'Fortin's Giant') are larger-growing cultivars[16]
  • C. majalis 'Flore Pleno' has double flowers.[16]
  • C. majalis 'Rosea' sometimes found under the name C. majalis var. rosea, has pink flowers.[16]

Traditionally Convallaria majalis has been grown in pots and winter forced to provide flowers during the winter months, both for as potted plants and as cut flowers.[18]


All parts of the plant are highly poisonous, including the red berries which may be attractive to children.[19] If ingested—even in small amounts—the plant can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, reduced heart rate,[20] blurred vision, drowsiness and red skin rashes.[21]

Roughly 38 different cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) have been found in the plant, some among others:

  • convallarin
  • convallamarin
  • convallatoxin
  • convallotoxoloside
  • convallosid
  • neoconvalloside
  • glucoconvalloside
  • majaloside
  • convallatoxon
  • corglycon
  • cannogenol-3-O-α-L-rhamnoside
  • cannogenol-3-O-β-D-allomethyloside
  • cannogenol-3-O-6-deoxy-β-D-allosido-β-D-glucoside,
  • cannogenol-3-O-6-deoxy-β-D-allosido-α-L-rhamnoside,
  • strophanthidin-3-O-6-deoxy-β-D-allosido-α-L-rhamnoside,
  • strophanthidin-3-O-6-deoxy-β-D-allosido-α-L-arabinoside,
  • strophanthidin-3-O-α-L-rhamnosido-2-β-D-glucoside,
  • sarmentogenin-3-O-6-deoxy-β-D-allosido-α-L-rhamnoside
  • sarmentogenin-3-O-6-deoxy-β-D-guloside
  • 19-hydroxy-sarmentogenin-3-O-α-L-rhamnoside,
  • 19-hydroxy-sarmentogenin
  • arabinosido-6-deoxyallose
  • lokundjoside

The plant also contains saponins. Although deadly, the plant has been used as a folk remedy in moderate amounts,[22] and is currently used by herbalists as a restricted herbal remedy. It also contains the unusual, poisonous amino acid azetidine-2-carboxylic acid.

The odor of lily of the valley, specifically the ligand bourgeonal, attracts mammal sperm.[23] The 2003 discovery of this phenomenon prompted research into odor reception,[24] but a 2012 study demonstrated instead that at high concentrations, bourgeonal imitated the role of progesterone in stimulating sperm to swim (chemotaxis), a process unrelated to odor reception.[25]

Legend and tradition

Christian legend

The flower is also known as Our Lady's tears or Mary's tears from Christian legends that it sprang from the weeping of the Virgin Mary during the crucifixion of Jesus. Other etiologies have its coming into being from Eve's tears after she was driven with Adam from the Garden of Eden[26] or from the blood shed by Saint Leonard of Noblac during his battles with a dragon.[citation needed]

The name "lily of the valley" is used in some English translations of the Bible in Song of Songs 2:1, but the Hebrew phrase "shoshannat-ha-amaqim" in the original text (literally "lily of the valleys") does not refer to this plant. It is possible, though, that the biblical phrase may have had something to do with the origin or development of the modern plant-name.

It is a symbol of humility in religious painting. Lily of the valley is considered the sign of Christ's second coming. The power of men to envision a better world was also attributed to the lily of the valley.[citation needed]

Other names and legends

Other names include May lily, May bells, and muguet (French). In Bulgarian and Macedonian it is called момина сълза /momina.səlza/ and момина солза respectively, meaning "lass's tear".

Its scientific name, majalis or maialis, means "of or belonging to May", and old astrological books place the plant under the dominion of Mercury, since Maia, the daughter of Atlas, was the mother of Mercury or Hermes.[citation needed]

In the "language of flowers", the lily of the valley signifies the return of happiness.[27] Legend tells of the affection of a lily of the valley for a nightingale that did not come back to the woods until the flower bloomed in May.[citation needed]

Use in weddings

Duchess of Cambridge with bridal bouquet featuring lily of the valley

Lily of the valley has been used in weddings,[27] although it can be very expensive.[28] Lily of the valley was featured in the bridal bouquet at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.[28][29] Lily of the valley was also the flower chosen by Princess Grace Kelly to be featured in her bridal bouquet.

Symbolic uses

At the beginning of the 20th century, it became tradition in France to sell lily of the valley on international labour day, 1 May (also called La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day) by labour organisations and private persons without paying sales tax (on that day only) as a symbol of spring.[30] The Norwegian municipality Lunner has a lily of the valley on its coat-of-arms.

Lily of the valley was the floral emblem of Yugoslavia,[31] and it also became the national flower of Finland in 1967.[32]



  1. "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  3. Chase, M.W.; Reveal, J.L. & Fay, M.F. (2009), "A subfamilial classification for the expanded asparagalean families Amaryllidaceae, Asparagaceae and Xanthorrhoeaceae", Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 161 (2): 132–136, doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00999.x<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Flora of China: Convallaria majalis
  5. Mills, Linn; Post, Dick (2005). Nevada gardener's guide. Nashville, Tenn.: Cool Springs Press. p. 137. ISBN 1-59186-116-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ohara, Masashi; Araki, Kiwakoi; Yamada, Etsukoi; Kawano, Shoichi, Life-history monographs of Japanese plants, 6: Convallaria keiskei Miq. (Convallariaceae), Plant Species Biology, Vol 21, No 2, August 2006, pp. 119–126(8), Blackwell Publishing
  7. [1]
  8. Flora of North America : Convallaria majalis
  9. Gleason, Henry A. and Cronquist, Arthur, (1991), Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York, pp. 839-40
  10. Vandepitte, Katrien; De Meyer, Tim; Jacquemyn, Hans (February 2013). "The impact of extensive clonal growth on fine-scale mating patterns: a full paternity analysis of a lily-of-the-valley population (Convallaria majalis)". Annals of Botany. 111: 623–628. doi:10.1093/aob/mct024. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Lily of the Valley Planting Guide". Retrieved 12 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. RHS Encyclopaedia of Perennials
  13. Rameau, J. C.; et al. (1989). Flore Forestière Française. Institut pour le développement Forestier. p. 1023. ISBN 2-904740-16-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Whitman, Ann. "Controlling Lily Leaf Beetles". Gardner's Supply Company. Retrieved 12 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Convallaria in Flora of North America @". Retrieved 2012-04-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 RHS Plant Finder 2009–2010. Dorling Kindersley. 2009. pp. 195, 196. ISBN 978-1-4053-4176-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "RHS Plant Selector Convallaria majalis AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2012-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Journal of horticulture and practical gardening. 1872. p. 378. Retrieved 28 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Lily-Of-The-Valley". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. New York Media, LLC (4 June 1979). New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. p. 92. ISSN 0028-7369. Retrieved 28 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Soniak, Matt (11 October 2011). "How Poisonous Is Lily of the Valley?". Retrieved 24 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Cantell, Sulo; Saarnio, Väinö, 1936. Suomen myrkylliset ja lääkekasvit (translation: The Poisonous and Medical plants of Finland, no known translated literature available)[better source needed]
  23. Marc Spehr; Günter Gisselmann; Alexandra Poplawski; Jeffrey A. Riffell; Christian H. Wetzel; Richard K. Zimmer; Hanns Hatt (2003). "Identification of a Testicular Odorant Receptor Mediating Human Sperm Chemotaxis". Science. 299 (5615): 2054–8. doi:10.1126/science.1080376. PMID 12663925. Retrieved 24 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. For example ScienceDaily 2007
  25. Christoph Brenker (2012). "The CatSper channel: a polymodal chemosensor in human sperm". The EMBO Journal. 31 (7): 1654–1665. doi:10.1038/emboj.2012.30. Retrieved 24 June 2012. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> See also ScienceMag article
  26. "May Birth Flower : Birth Month Flower". 2007-06-02. Retrieved 2012-04-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. 27.0 27.1 Wedding Traditions & Trivia
  28. 28.0 28.1 Lily of the Valley Stars in Royal Bridal Bouquet
  29. Balcony kisses seal royal wedding
  30. "Lily of the Valley – May Day in France". 26 April 2010. Retrieved 24 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "Lily of the valley". Retrieved 24 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. "Lily of the Valley – Finland's National Flower". 28 May 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further Reading

Vandepitte, Katrien; De Meyer, Tim; Jacquemyn, Hans (February 2013). "The impact of extensive clonal growth on fine-scale mating patterns: a full paternity analysis of a lily-of-the-valley population (Convallaria majalis)". Annals of Botany. 111: 623-628. doi:10.1093/aob/mct024. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links