The lily of the valley is a beloved woodland flower known for its pure white, bell-shaped blooms and intoxicatingly sweet scent. This shade-loving plant has a rich history intertwined with fascinating myths, legends, and symbolism.
Discover 10 intriguing secrets hidden within the lily of the valley’s delicate blossoms. Learn about its poisonous properties, global significance, powerful meaning, and more.
With the arrival of spring, the lily of the valley emerges from the forest floor in Asia, Europe, and North America. These dainty flowers nod downward from slender arched stems, their tiny white bells dancing in the gentlest breeze.
While the lily of the valley may seem delicate, this ancient perennial is blanketed in mystique. It has been revered for centuries for its beauty, fragrance, and nearly magical properties.
Let’s explore some of the most fascinating facts about this enchanting spring flower!
1. The Lily of the Valley is Extremely Poisonous
While intoxicatingly fragrant, the lily of the valley is highly toxic. All parts of the plant contain poisonous cardiac glycosides, which can cause abdominal pain, nausea, blurred vision, and even death if ingested by humans or pets.
The toxins act similarly to digitalis, slowing the heart rate. Poison control should be contacted immediately if any part of the plant is swallowed.
So while lovely in a vase, the lily of the valley should always be kept out of reach of curious children and pets!
2. Its Scientific Name Honors the Month of May
The lily of the valley’s scientific name is Convallaria majalis. Majalis comes from Maia, a Roman goddess of spring and growth.
So the flower’s full scientific name translates to “May lily of the valley”, reflecting its bloom time in spring.
3. It Has Strong Ties to Fairies and Elves in Legend
In Celtic folklore, the lily of the valley was believed to attract fairies. The bells were perfect cups from which the wee folk could drink midnight dew.
Elves were also said to hide beneath the sheltering leaves, while faeries used the flowers to decorate their homes.
4. The Lily of the Valley Thrives in the Shade
Native to woodlands, the lily of the valley flourishes in dappled shade beneath the canopy of trees. It also grows along shaded stream banks and forest edges.
While shade-loving, the plant can tolerate some early morning sunlight. But afternoon sun will cause it to struggle in hot climates.
5. It Has Been a Royal Wedding Tradition for Centuries
With its pure white blooms, the lily of the valley has been featured in royal wedding bouquets since the 1800s.
Queen Victoria, Grace Kelly, Kate Middleton, and Queen Elizabeth II all carried lilies of the valley in their bridal flowers.
6. The Flower Has Deep Meaning in Christianity
In Christianity, the lily of the valley symbolizes the Virgin Mary’s purity and tears shed for her son Jesus.
The bell shape represents Mary’s womb, while the flower’s white color indicates her virtue. Lilies of the valley grown along the paths to churches were said to have sprung from Mary’s crying.
7. It Has Been Used in Folk Medicine Around the World
While toxic, the lily of the valley has a long history in folk medicine due to its cardiac glycosides.
In Europe, it was used to treat heart conditions. Leaves were applied to the skin for joint pain and ulcers.
However, the plant should never be self-medicated due to its toxicity.
8. The Fragrance Inspired Classic Perfumes
With its fresh, spring-like scent, Lily of the Valley has been a popular perfume ingredient since the 1900s.
It’s been featured in countless fragrances, including the legendary Diorissimo by Christian Dior.
9. The Flower Has Cultural Significance Around the Globe
With its ties to spring, the lily of the valley holds meaning for cultures worldwide.
It’s the national flower of Finland, stars in May Day celebrations in France, and is called “Our Lady’s Tears” in Romania.
10. A Greek God Gifted the Flower to the Muses
According to Greek legend, the god Apollo created a lily of the valley so the muses could tread softly in the forest.
The spring blooms carpeted the woodland floor so the muses’ feet were cushioned as they danced among the trees.
The lily of the valley may appear delicate, but this ancient flower is shrouded in potent magic. With its intoxicating scent, poisonous secrets, and presence in myths worldwide, it continues to fascinate.
Next time you see its nodding white bells, take a moment to appreciate the allure of this special spring flower. Inhale its perfume, contemplate its meaning, and delight in its mysteries that have endured for centuries.
The lily of the valley surely has many more secrets yet to be revealed!