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Lily of the valley

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Lily of the valley
Lily of the valley.jpg
Scientific Classification
  • C. majuscula
  • C. majalis
C. majuscula.jpg
American Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley is a herbaceous, perennial plant that grows along the ground. It has small white flowers, once thought to have been steps for fairies to reach the weeds in which they make baskets, and bright red berries that hold up to three seeds. They are from the family Liliaceae which has two species: C. majalis and C. majuscula. It is native to Europe, but now also grows in North America and Asia. The plant prefers cooler climates in the shade and grows best in rich, moist soil. It is a beautiful and fragrant plant good for decorating gardens and homes, but it is also toxic and poisonous when eaten, although it can be used as a medicine for cardiac problems. It grows by spreading its underground roots and, once mature, is often hard to get rid of.



European lily of the valley anatomy

The most recognized species of lily of the valley is C. majalis, also called the European lily of the valley. Two others are American lily of the valley (C. majuscula), native to America, and the Japanese lily of the valley (C. keiskei Japanese) which is actually a completely different bush-like plant native to Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and China. [1]

It has green, paralleled-veined leaves and stems about five to twelve inches tall with hanging fragrant white flowers coming off a single raceme, hiding brown seeds. The small, six-lobed flowers hang upside down with six to fourteen on a vine that extends off the primary stem. The two, sometimes three, smooth, oval leaves sit opposite each other towards the bottom of the main stem. They are about three inches in width and eight inches in length. The berries, if any, are about a quarter inch in size that hold up to three seeds.[2] The plant grows slowly, but once it is full grown and has reached maturity, it is usually around 10 inches tall. [3]

American lily of the valley isn't much different from the European species except that the flowers are larger and more pink and their berries are more orange than red. [4]They tend to form in sparse colonies rather than packed densely together. [5]

Japanese lily of the valley doesn't actually belong to the same genus, but is in Pieris, they just share the same name. It grows more like a large bush or twelve foot tall shrub. The flowers grow in numerous clusters and it has dark green, serrated leaves. [6]


European lily of the valley is a monocot, meaning it has only one cotyledon (leaf in the seed).[7]. It is a herbaceous, perennial plant, meaning it grows throughout the year, but its stems and leaves die down to ground level each growing season. [8]

It forms its large colonies by spreading rhizomes, underground, fibrous roots. This is how it stays alive all season. At the beginning of spring sprouts grow up from the pips coming out of the roots and then flower later in the season. [9]

The flowers each have six male reproductive structures called stamens with small anthers on the end which produce the pollen. It has a style where the male gametes travel down to fertilize the ovule which turns into a berry. Each berry contains several seeds, making it an angiosperm, or "covered seed." [10]


American Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley grows in the cooler climates like North America, Asia, and Europe. [11] There have been some species found growing in the Appalachian Mountains. [v] They can grow in both sun and shade, but prefer to be in more shady areas with rich, moist soil. They are very adaptable plants and can become intrusive, take over the native plants, and be difficult to get rid of. Once it is mature, it can pretty much grow and spread on its own for many years and becomes a good groundcover. [12]

An easy way to plant your own lily of the valley is to buy your own pips, part of the bulbous roots, at the store. Find a spot in medium shade with good water drainage, but still moist soil. To trick the pips into sprouting faster, soak them in warm water for a couple of hours. Cut the tips of the roots so that they will absorb water, then plant them in rich dirt about 1.5 inches apart with the tips revealed and be sure to give it plenty of water when it is first growing. It will not hurt the plant if you would like to cut off the flowers to use. Leave the plant alone even when the foliage dies, and it will grow again the following season. [13]

Uses and History

American lily of the valley has been used for medical purposes such as cardiac problems. However, the plant is very poisonous and can cause many health problems such as paralysis and respiratory problems in children. [14] Some of its poisonous ingredients are Convallarin, Convallamarin, and Convallatoxin. [15]

In severe cases, some deaths have been reported resulting from eating the berries or leaves of European lily of the valley. If digested, some symptoms that may occur are fast heart rate, having cold or clammy skin, increased urination, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea, disorientation, depression, weakness, exhaustion, hives, and blurred vision. [16] If too much is ingested, heart failure leading to death or comas may happen. It can also be toxic to your pet or other animals such as dogs and cats if ingested in large amounts. [17]

In earlier times, the leaves and flowers would be boiled and used as a remedy to soothe the pain of gout, inflammation of the eyes, and to treat heart problems, but only under supervision. [18] They would also use cream made from the roots to help heal ulcers and burns. The powdered flowers cause sneezing which can relieve headaches. [19]

Today, they use it to help heal heart problems cause by long term emphysema by regularizing the heart rate and strengthening it. It can help reduce blood pressure and thickness because of its diuretic characteristics. It is used as a substitute for foxglove because the body takes to it better and it is absorbed easier. [20]

Lily of the valley has been in many myths and urban legends. It is said that they use to the flowers are used as steps for the fairies to help them get to the reeds of which they'd weave their cradles. The flowers also apparently ring whenever the fairies sing. Sometimes they are referred to as "fairy bells." [21] One story goes that the lily of the valley loved to hear the Nightingale sing, but because it was so shy, it hid among the reeds until the Nightingale vowed that he would never sing again unless the lily would flower every May. [22]

They also thought that the lilies would grow where innocent blood was shed. [23] One story goes that St. Leonard was in an intense battle with Malitia, an evil dragon, and lily of the valley grew where the blood was shed. It is a sign of purity and happiness. People thought that by planting them in their gardens, they would ward of ghosts and evil spirits. [24]


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