False Lily of the Valley: Shade-Loving Groundcover for Beside the Pond or Water Garden

Maianthemum species have heart shaped leaves and edible berries. They are a shade-loving spring flower for the water garden.

In early spring, tiny shoots lie dormant underneath the forest floor. As spring goes on, in shady areas near streams and wetlands, plants begin to emerge and uncurl into heart-shaped leaves.

This beautiful, shade-loving groundcover is the False Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum). This perennial loves wet, shady areas and is a common plant in deciduous and coniferous forests.

Several Species Share the False Lily Name

The genus Maianthemum is native to countries around the world, including North America, Europe, and eastern Asia.

The common name False Lily of the Valley can refer to several Maianthemum species, including Maianthemum dilatum and Maianthemum canadense.

The false (Maianthemum racemosum) and star-flowered Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatumare also close cousins of the false lily of the valley.

Heart-Shaped Leaves Make False Lily of the Valley a Lovely Groundcover

In the spring, wet and shady areas of the temperate rainforest are covered with the unfolding leaves of Maianthemum dilatatum. 

This plant can grow more than ten centimeters off the ground and will overlap its leaves with its neighbors, forming a thick mat.

While it can survive some impacts by feet, it is best planted around a rocky, shady path that surrounds a water garden. It can also be planted up to the side of the garden, with its leaves reaching over the pond.

The White Mayflowers Grow in the Spring

Maianthemum dilatatum is also known as the Mayflower, or the Canada Mayflower. This common name is derived from the Latin name for the plant.

Some time during the month of May, the plant sends up a flower stalk ringed with tiny white flowers. The flowers distinguish it from the true lily.

Plants in the lily family generally flower in threes, but false lily of the valley flowers in groups of four.

Edible Berries of False Lily of the Valley

The speckled berries of False Lily of the Valley are edible, and they were eaten by the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest.

They range from a greenish-gold to red in color. The berries are sour and should generally be stored in water or dried before eating.

Children love the tiny berries, since they look like miniature marbles. For this reason, some also call the plant bead ruby.

It is also called snakeberry, likely for the speckled coloration of the berries. A word of caution: unlike False Lily of the Valley, true Lily of the Valley is poisonous.

How to Grow False Lily of the Valley

How to Grow False Lily of the Valley

Mayflower is a very simple plant to grow, although at first it may seem to be a delicate and slow-spreading plant.

It grows most easily from rhizomes that can be purchased in the fall at native plant nurseries. These long, thin roots yield a small number of leaves the first spring.

By the second and third years, the plant begins to spread across the side of the pond or water garden, blanketing shady areas of the garden.

Read also: Growing Lily of the valley

False Lily of the Valley Establishes and Spreads Easily

False lily of the valley can be surprisingly aggressive once established. Like other wetland plants that can become invasive, it is best planted in a contained area if the gardener does not want it to spread across the entire garden.

Maianthemum species make excellent groundcovers for areas beside the pond. While they need to be watched to ensure that they do not become invasive, they are a surprisingly hardy plant with foliage that creates a lovely spring groundcover next to the water garden.

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