Lily Of The Valley (Convallaria Majalis): Meaning, Symbolism, Poisonous, Care Guide

It is a cliché that you will smell the lily of the valley before you could find it because this one is a highly scented perennial. Aside from its beautiful, delicate, white flowers that make beautiful stem cuts, it is also a popular perennial because it is easy to care for.

Albeit its known toxicity, you can still find lilies of the valley in floral arrangements and famous container plants.

If you intend on growing lily of the valley anytime soon, here’s everything you need to know about the plant. 

How to grow and care for Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley facts

Lily of the valley facts

If you think you already know everything about the lily of the valley, well, you have to think again. Here are some interesting facts that you might not know about the lily of the valley. 

  • It is botanically known as Convallaria majalis and is associated with asparagus because of its rhizomatic arrangement and grows through stolon. 
  • It is native to Eurasia and North America and is also called as May lily, Our Lady’s tears May bells and Mary’s tears. 
  • It was the bridal bouquet of Kate Middleton when she wed Prince William. 
  • It is the national flower of Finland and the official floral emblem of Yugoslavia. 
  • It is the third most referenced flower in the bible. 
  • Critters stay away from it because it is poisonous. 

Lily of the Valley flower meaning & symbolism

Having been archived to have existed for more than a thousand years, the lily of the valley is highly symbolic in many cultures and religions.

In Christian beliefs, the lily of the valley is a well-referenced flower in the bible. It is also named as Mary’s tears because it is believed that the plant sprung out of the Virgin Mary’s tears during Christ’s crucifixion.

It is also referenced as the plant that emerged from Eve’s trail of tears when she was banished out of Eden. 

Other than these, lilies of the valley are also traditional wedding bouquet flowers in Europe. It is also the official birth month flower of May, hence, the other alias May flower. In general, it is associated with meanings of innocence, devotion and fidelity.  

Types of Lily of the Valley

1. Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriata’

Convallaria majalis 'Albostriata'

This variety is an attention-getter because of its upward-lancing, dark green leaves with creamy yellow/white stripes. Its major upside is that it does not spread too widely like the other varieties, hence, making a good garden bed flower or container plant. 

2. Convallaria majalis ‘Rosea’

Convallaria majalis 'Rosea'
Source

It is called as such because it produces pink, rose-like flowers instead of the typical white lily flowers. However, unlike the blanket of flowers that lilies produce, this variety only produces a handful in each stalk during bloom time.

More than that, it is also not as fragrant as the traditional lily of the valley. 

3. Convallaria majalis ‘Fortin’s Giant’

Convallaria majalis 'Fortin's Giant'
Source

This lily of the valley variant is a prized ground cover because of its large, dark green foliage. Unlike the other lily of the valley cultivars, this one is particular to shady areas.

Aside from being beneficial in erosion control, its beautiful, white and fragrant flowers are cut for wedding bouquets. 

4. Convallaria majalis ‘Prolificans’ (Double lily of the valley)

Convallaria majalis 'Prolificans' (Double lily of the valley)

This very rare lily of the valley variety is famous for its double flowers. Although its flowers are not as clustered as the traditional lilies, they make better stem cuts because they last longer.

They can survive beautifully in the vase for more than a week compared to the three-day vase life of traditional lilies of the valley.

5. Convallaria majalis ‘Flore Pleno’

Convallaria majalis 'Flore Pleno'
Source

Like the Fortin’s, this one is also particular to shade. It is known for its fragrant, double-flowers that bloom during spring. It is attractive to pollinators like bees and butterflies.

It also has striking, long, lancing and pendant-shaped leaves in hues of dark green. 

6. Convallaria majalis ‘Hardwick Hall’

Convallaria majalis 'Hardwick Hall'

It has the same lancing leaves and creamy yellow/white stripes as the Albostriata but this one has a paler green color. It has larger blooms compared to the typical lily of the valley.

It is quite flexible as it could be used as a border plant, garden bed plant, stem cut and be cultivated as shrub. 

Lily of the valley colors

The lily of the valley does not have much range when it comes to color selection. For its bell-shaped flowers, the most common color is white.

Some varieties have creamy white color which looks like it has yellow tinges.

Other colors include pale pink to deeper pink hues. As for the berries, it can either be yellow/white, red or blue colors. 

Planting Lily of the valley

Planting Lily of the valley

When to plant

The best time to plant the lily of the valley must be during late fall. Its rhizomatic roots, also known as pips, are divided after flowering.

This means that in between November to December must be the recommended planting time.

Cooler temperatures will allow the plant to enter dormancy, paving for brighter flowers during bloom time in spring. 

Where to plant

The lily of the valley can bloom well in shady areas where it could receive minimal light. It will thrive well if it is replanted in between trees or shrubs.

It is not really an indoor plant because it is toxic to animals and humans but you can cut the flowers for your vase. 

How to plant

How to plant lily of the valley

The first step in planting lily of the valley is to cut a handful of root stocks.  Soak the roots for at least an hour and sit dry. After which, separate the crowns but make sure that each crown has its own set of root stock and shoots.

Plant separately in 8-inch pots and cover it with moist soil. Cover it enough until only the shoot is spiking from the surface.

Plant thoroughly until roots spread in the pot for re-planting in a shady, outdoor location. 

Lily of the valley care

Lily of the valley care guide

Soil

Since this plant is native to woodlands, it requires moist, well-draining soils. It also loves moderately acidic soils at a pH range of 6-6.5.

This specific acidity could be found in forest soils. It will grow well in sandy and loamy soil. Overwatering the soil will make it soggy. This one will lead to root rot. 

Fertilizer

Unlike other moist-loving plants, the lily of the valley does not fancy too much fertilizer. Adding organic compost or 2-inches of mulch annually is already enough for this plant. 

Sun & Light

Lily of the valley lighting

It thrives better in shade than in light. It can tolerate mild sun bursts in the early morning but it must be transferred somewhere else for shade from 10am onwards. If it is exposed to more sun, you should amend it with more water.

Planting it in very sunny climates will not make it bloom. Instead, it will make the leaves crisp and yellow until they die. 

Water requirements

Like most moist-loving plants, you can water them everyday but at a regulated level. Make sure that at least two inches of the top soil is dry before watering again.

To maintain the moisture, you can do misting every morning at the leaves and base of the plant. Thorough watering is needed during the growing season (spring to early summer). 

Humidity and temperature

Lily of the valley is cold-hardy in zones 2-9. It loves cool climates and low-humidity rooms.

It can tolerate low temperatures of up to -11 degrees Celsius. But during the summer and drought-like humidity, it must be transferred somewhere shady and must be watered regularly to keep its desired moisture. 

Repotting

This process will happen if there is root overgrowth. Carefully dig through the root stock and repeat the process of how to plant the lily of the valley. 

Pruning

As for pruning, just take notice of yellow or brown leaves and shear them off. Instead of regular pruning, this plant needs regular dividing the stolon or root stock.

You can prune off the undesirable stolon during the first frost or during early spring. 

Propagation

Truth be told, lilies of the valley are self-propagating thanks to their rhizomatic roots that spread well in colonies. It also self-spreads through its berry-like seeds. But if you are curious to do some propagation, you can use two ways.

One, plant the pips in moist, well-draining soil in the summer. Two, plant as many pips to facilitate self-pollination and produce berries. 

How to care for lily of the valley in winter

Although they love the winter cold, they will go dormant come mid-winter. To make sure that they are handled with care, you have to cut the surviving stalks after all the blooms have faded.

Prune off the yellow or wilted leaves and wait for it to come alive after winter.

How to care for Lily of the valley indoors

Due to its toxicity, you can only keep potted lilies of the valley indoors during mid-fall to winter or during summer when the temperature is too high and it is too humid.

But if you have the room for yourself, it is okay to have one in the home as you could control its water intake depending on the season.

You still have to watch out for yellowing leaves that might be a sign of overwatering. 

Lily of the valley diseases & pests

It is a well-known fact that the lily of the valley is toxic to humans and larger critters like rabbits, deer, dogs, cats and horses.

And while other insects are hesitant to munch on it too, there are some pests that feast on it occasionally, especially during spring when its foliage is very green. Some of these pests would be spider mites who would chew on the leaves during spring.

In effect, the leaves will become sappy and it will turn yellow. The most common pests for lily of the valley would be snails and slugs. Aside from ripping the soil off of nutrients, they also produce leaf spots. 

As for common diseases, lily of the valley is prone to leaf spots caused by its leaves being soaked in too much water and if left unattended shall turn to fungal rotting or rusting. It might also be prone to Southern blight indicated by the formation of yellow or brown ball-like figures in the stem, plant’s base or around the soil. 

For these diseases, the common intervention is applying a potent fungicide, removing yellow/dead leaves early on and stopping overwatering. 

Toxicity of Lily of the Valley

Albeit the fact that it is really a beautiful and symbolic flower, all parts of the lily of the valley are toxic to humans and animals.

If you plant them in your yard, you have to make sure that its red berries and white, delicate flowers will not catch the attention of small kids and your pets. 

This plant is considerably toxic because of a compound called cardiac glycosides used in regulation to treat cardiovascular diseases, specifically congestive heart conditions. 

It is said that more than 40 types of this compound are found in just one plant and when ingested without regulation could be fatal and deadly.

Adding to its toxicity is a rare amino acid that will cause seizures and cardiac arrest when ingested. Thorough hand washing is recommended if you ever come close to the plant. 

How to get rid of lily of the valley

Because of its rhizomatic roots, it would be a challenge to get rid of the lily of the valley by hand. To kill the plant entirely, you have to use a reliable herbicide containing glyphosate.

Spraying the solution should happen when the sun is at its peak or at temperatures of more than 45 degrees. It will not be killed immediately. You have to continually apply the herbicide for at least two weeks. 

Conclusion

Sure, you could find more interesting plants than the lily of the valley but there is nothing that will exceed its unique reputation.

From a popular flower cut and a widely known religious symbol to an exotic looking, easy to care for yet toxic plant, nothing else comes close with lilies of the valley when it comes to flower profile uniqueness.

If you intend to take care of one, don’t ever miss any of its care requirements and be mindful of what we have covered about it in this post.

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