The delicate little lily-of-the-valley flowers appear in mid-spring with a beautiful burst of fragrance.
Lily-of-the-valley is a dainty little woodland perennial with just two (rarely three) leaves that arise from the base of the plant. The leaves are more or less elliptic, on stalks, and 2-8 in (5-20 cm) long. Lily-of-the-valley emerges from tough but slender underground rhizomes that branch freely and may extend for considerable distances, making it difficult to differentiate individual plants. Patches of lily-of-the-valley sometimes form dense carpets on woodland floors. In early spring, a lily-of-the-valley sports 5-10 little white flowers hanging along one side of an arching raceme about 9-12 in (22-30 cm) long. The bell shaped flowers (sometimes tinged with pink) are about a half inch (1.25 cm) across and strongly fragrant. The fruit is a poisonous red berry containing many seeds.
Several selections are available, including some that are larger than the typical species, some with double flowers, some with pink flowers, and some with leaves that are longitudinally striped with white or yellow.
Location Convallaria occurs in open woodlands, alpine meadows and scrublands in north temperate regions in Asia, Europe and North America. Most authorities recognize but a single, wide ranging, variable species: Convallaria majalis. Others list C. montana as the species occurring naturally in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina; C. keiskei as the species occurring in China and Japan; and C. majalis as the species that is native to Europe, and now naturalized in much of North America, including all of the eastern United States and Canada, and many parts of northwestern and midwestern North America.
Culture Light: Lily-of-the-valley will grow in nearly complete shade to nearly full sun. Ideal is semi-shade. More shade will be appreciated in warmer climates. More sun brings more flowers. Moisture:Convallaria thrives in a fertile, leafy, humus rich, consistently moist soil. It adores a mulch of rotting leaves or compost in autumn. Grown in proper shade, lily-of-the-valley is very tolerant of drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 2-7. Lily-of-the-valley does best in zones 2-5. It struggles in zone 7. Propagation: Rhizomes can be separated and replanted; this is best done in autumn. Seeds should be sown as soon as ripe in autumn.
This bed of lily-of-the-valley forms a dense mat providing a handsome groundcover for this shady area beneath some large trees.
Grow Lily-of-the-valley in a mixed woodland garden. It makes a fine groundcover in a moist, shady environment, such as under trees or shrubs in a mixed border. Grow with ferns and other little woodland shade loving herbaceous perennials. Under ideal conditions, it spreads so effectively as to be considered a weed, albeit a fragrant and welcome weed. Lily-of-the-valley is a carefree little flower that will persist with no effort on the part of the gardener.
Lily-of-the-valley is popular with florists, and makes an ideal cut flower whose fragrance (compare to gardenia and jasmine) lasts for days. It is especially loved at weddings, and used as a romantic gift on May Day in Europe. Lily-of-the-valley is cultivated for perfumery. Extracts of flowers and rhizomes have been used in herbal medicine. These may have medicinal value by improving an irregular heart beat and lowering blood pressure. Its action is said to be similar to that of digitalis, but less toxic.
Rhizomes (called pips – see below) may be lifted in autumn, potted up and brought indoors for a fragrant, late winter display. The plants can be replanted outdoors after blooming, or retained as container plants.
The lily-of-the-valley flowers may be followed by attractive red fruits that are poisonous when ingested.
Little buds on the surface of the rhizomes are called pips. It is the pips that eventually grow upright into above ground plants, and the pips that are used for propagation. (A pip is also a contagious disease of poultry; a mark indicating the numerical value on a die or domino; a mark indicating the suit on a playing card; a small seed from a fleshy fruit; one of the segments on the surface of a pineapple; a short high-pitched radio signal; a short sound; a radar blip; the shoulder insignia of a British military officer; a small spot or speck; a nick name for Philip; and an orphan with great expectations. As a verb, pip means to wound or kill an opponent; to blackball or ostracize someone; to pierce the shell of an egg during hatching; and to chirp or peep.)
All parts of lily-of-the-valley are poisonous. Ingesting even small amounts can cause abdominal pain and vomiting. The pretty red berries should be kept away from your own small children. Usage for medicinal purposes should only be under professional supervision. In some countries the medicinal use of lily-of-the-valley is regulated.