Family: Asparagaceae Sub-family: Nolinoideae
Species: Convallaria majalis
Related plants: Dracaena, Polygonatum
Names: Lily of the Valley, Maiglöckchen, Jacob’s Ladder, Ladder to Heaven, Lily Constancy, Male Lily, May Lily, May bells, Muguet, Our Lady’s Tears
The genus name comes from Latin convallis, meaning “valley”. The species name majalis means “belonging to the month of May”.
Description: Perennial, woodland flowering plant, native to the Northern hemisphere in Asia, Europe and the USA, forming large colonies through rhizomes. Lily of the valley typically flowers in May. The flowers are white, or sometimes pink, and strongly fragrant. The bright red berries ripen from June to September and contain 2-5 seeds each. Propagation from seed is possible, though not easy. The plants are self-sterile. Colonies springing from a single clone will not set seed.
Propagation: via root cuttings or seed. Seeds require a cold period before they germinate. Place the seeds in wet paper towel and inside a sealable plastic bag and first keep them at room temperature. After 2-4 weeks move them to the fridge and keep at -4-4°C for at least 1 month.Clean the seeds and replace old paper towels if they turn moldy. After 4-6 weeks you should change the surrounding temperature to 5-12°C.
Or sow directly in September/October or by the end of winter and let germinate under natural conditions. Use fresh seeds, directly taken from the ripe fruits. Sow in small containers that you place directly in the ground or on a seed bench in an unheated green-house. Sow ca. 1 cm deep, into loose and well-drained soil, ideally a mix of humus-rich soil with loam (up to 50%) and sand.
In nature the seeds germinate stimulated by the rise of temperatures, sunlight and snow melt. Germination time will vary, depending on the conditions and age of seeds, from a couple of weeks to 1 year. Young plants may not like to be transplanted, so make sure you sow them at least 5 cm apart from each other, so that they have enough space to grow.
If grown in a container use some fertilizer. Once grown successfully you can plant them out in the first year, preferably in September. Choose a place in semi-shade, where morning and evening sun reaches, with rich, well-drained soil. They spread easily through rhizomes and quickly develop colonies, if the place is favorable. Growing lily of the valley from seed takes a lot of time. They will not flower before the 3rd, sometimes only by the 5th year and they flower only once.
Toxicity: All parts of the plant are poisonous. Ingestion of only small amounts can cause gastric pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and a lowered heart rate in humans. Poisoning through ingestion is treated with emetics and the stomache-pump. Atropine and nitrites are given as antidote.
Medicine: lily of the valley contains 38 known cardiac glycosides, a.o. convallamarin, which has digitalis-like effects, and is applied as a cardio tonic and diuretic.
Uses: lily of the valley also contains bourgeonal, an aromatic aldehyde, which stimulates olfactory senses in males and activates attracts mammal sperm. It is used commercially in perfume industry. The plant contains further saponines, which are little understood up to date. Saponines are known mostly for their piscicidal usage amongst indigenous people.
Folklore and symbolism: Lily of the valley is a herald of spring, life and Easter. In the language of flowers it signals the return of happiness. It is sacred to Pagan goddess Ēostre /Ostara, and represents purity and humility. In Christianity it is also known as Our Ladie’s Tears and Mary’s Tears, as it was believed to have sprung from the tears that Mary shed during the crucifixion. In the bible is mentioned a Lily of the Valleys, which may have been the origin for the name now attributed to Convallaria majalis. In another legend the flower is believed to have sprung from the tears shed by Eve after she was banished from Eden. In religious paintings lily of the valley represents humility and the Second Coming of Christ. It stands also for the power in men to envision a better world. Lily of the valley is sacred to Frankish St. Leonard of Noblac, who battled a dragon.
Magical attributions: In astrological magic the plant is traditionally associated with Mercury, possibly because the Greek Maia, goddess and name-sake for the month of may, was the mother of Hermes, to which Mercury was the Roman equivalent.
Planet, element: Mercury, air