Convallaria is a small genus in the family Asparagaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The genus is composed of three species – Convallaria majalis, Convallaria montana and Convallaria keiskei.
They live in shady places and are one of the most fragrant blooming plants in the spring and early summer. The plants produce delicate bell-shaped flowers and small red berries at maturity. The dark green foliage acts as a great backdrop for the small, pendant and waxy flowers that are usually white. Each flower has six petals fused into dangling bells along one side at the top of the flower stalk. Lily of the Valley is a great plant for a woodland garden or as ground cover in shady borders.
The scientific name is derived from the Latin word “convallis”, meaning “valley”, in reference to the steep slope of the leaves forming a valley when paired.
The genus was formerly placed in the lily family (Liliaceae), hence the common name Lily of the Valley.
Convallaria majalis is commonly known as Lily of the Valley. However, it is a common name for all plants in the Convallaria genus.
Convallaria symbolizes purity and happiness.
Interesting facts about Convallaria:
Convallaria in France and Finland
In France, the tradition is to give this flower to friends and loved ones on May Day.
May 1st is a national holiday in France, also known as “Labor Day”, and one of the ways the French celebrate this holiday is by offering a small bouquet of Lily of the Valley to loved ones and to friends, to wish them happiness and good luck.
The tradition of giving these flowers on May 1 is said to have begun in 1561, when King Charles the 9th of France was given a bunch of Lily of the Valley to bring him luck and success for the next year. Thereafter, the king introduced the practice of offering flowers to each of the ladies in his court in springtime, and the custom spread rapidly throughout the country.
Convallaria majalis is the national flower of Finland since 1967.
Convallaria in Christianity
In Christianity, it is believed that Lily of the Valley was formed from the tears of Mary as she wept for Jesus Christ during the crucifixion.
Pre-Christians associated the flower with their Goddess of spring – Ostara.
Convallaria in Music and Poetry
British rock band Queen has a song devoted to Lily of the Valley. The song is thought to be about the 1835 novel “The Lily of the Valley” by Honoré de Balzac.
Lily of the Valley was the favorite flower of great Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). It was also the favorite of the last Empress of Russia, Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna Romanova (1872-1918).
Is Convallaria toxic?
All parts of this plant are poisonous, including the small red berries.
The whole plant has toxic levels of cardiac glycosides, causing serious life-threatening symptoms within hours of consumption.
The plant also contains saponins, which are not only toxic to dogs and cats but to children as well if they are eaten.
Benefits and Uses
In Europe, Lily of the Valley is a flower that is often used in weddings.
Catherine (Kate) Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, used this flower in her bridal bouquet when she married Prince William.
The flowers of this plant are used to make perfumes.
Convallaria blooms are usually white, but sometimes pink.
Convallaria reaches about 30 cm (1 ft) in height.
Convallaria will grow best in rich, moist and well drained soil. The plant is not fussy about the soil pH.