The Convallaria majalis, or the Lily of the Valley, is a woodland flower that is native to the Northern Hemisphere in Asia and Europe. There are also a few that are native to the Eastern United States. This delicate flower is also poisonous.
The lily of the valley is a perennial, herbaceous plant. Its population spreads through rhizomes. At the end of the summer, new shoots form at the ends of the stolons. These dormant stems are called pips. In the spring these pips grow into leafy shoots while staying connected to the main shoot under the ground. As it grows, it will develop one or two leaves. When it flowers, there may be between five to fifteen blooms on the stem. The flowers are white or, occasionally, pink, bell-shaped and lightly scented. The lily of the valley blooms in the late spring, unless it is grown in an area with mild winters, then it may bloom as early as March.
A small orange-red berry is then produced with white to brown seeds which dry into a round bead. The lily of the valley is self-sterile and the colonies, which grow from a single rhizome, do not create fertile seeds.
The Convallaria majalis variety keiskei comes from China and Japan. It has red fruit and flowers which are bowl-shaped. The Convallaria majalis variety majalis is from Eurasia. This variety has white midribs on the flowers. The Convallaria majalis variety Montana is native to the United States. This variety’s flower has green colored midribs.
There are several legends that have evolved around this flower. It has often signified the return of happiness and legend says that the nightingale loves the flower so much that it will not return to the woods until the lily of the valley blooms in May.
In France there is a legend of a holy man, Saint Leonard. He was a close friend of King Clovis, in 559 AD. Saint Leonard was a brave fighter who wanted to commune with God. He sought and received the permission of the king to live in the woods, as a hermit. In this woods lived a dragon named Temptation. While Saint Leonard was praying one day, he did not hear the dragon demand that Saint Leonard leave the woods. With his fiery breath the dragon burned down Saint Leonard’s hut. This led to many bloody battles between the two. Eventually Saint Leonard drove Temptation deeper into the woods until the dragon disappeared totally. Wherever the dragon’s blood had spilled, poisonous weeds began to grow, however, wherever Saint Leonard’s blood spilt beds of lilies of the valley grew. Today, these woods are known as Saint Leonard’s Forest.
Another name for the lily of the valley is Our Lady’s tears or Mary’s tears. Legend says that when the Virgin Mary wept during the crucifixion of Jesus, lilies of the valley grew where her tears fell. Other legends say that after Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, these flowers grew where her tears fell.
Other religious meanings
In religious paintings, the lily of the valley is used as a symbol of humility. It is also considered a sign of Christ’s second coming.
The virgin goddess of spring, Ostara is associated with lilies of the valley in Germanic mythology. To pagans, it symbolizes life and when it blooms it announces the feast of Ostara. The fragrance and the white color of the flowers symbolize humility and purity of this goddess.