Lily of the valley is a plant that has bloomed freely throughout the world for thousands of years. It is associated with legends, mythology, royalty, and states and countries. This beautiful flowering plant is well-known for it’s sweet, pungent odor, but it has a dark side – it is highly poisonous.
Lily of the valley is a sturdy flowering plant found in cool temperate climates. It blooms freely in woodland areas in Asia, Europe and the United States. It’s a perennial that spreads easily by forming underground stems (rhizomes) that resemble twisted roots. Rhizomes store plant nutrients that help produce new shoots in the spring and survive dormancy in the winter. When rhizomes separate, each piece can produce a new plant, and plant colonies spread quickly.
Plants have one or two leaves about 10 inches long. Stems grown up to 12 inches tall, producing flowers in a variety of shapes and colors with as many as 5 -15 flowers on a single stem. Flowers bloom in late spring with sweetly scented, small white or pink bell-shaped blooms. Plants also produce small orange-red berries containing tiny seeds that attract insects and animals.
The lily of the valley is a popular garden plant that’s used as quickly spreading ground cover with sweetly scented flowers. Some varieties produce double flowers on a single stem that are quite beautiful. Plants are often potted or used as cut flowers for both inside and outside locations.
All parts of this popular plant are highly poisonous – the leaves, flowers and orange-red berries. When ingested in even the smallest amount, toxins can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and a slower, reduced heart rate. Caution should be used when planting in areas with small children and pets.
Legends and Mythology
Lily of the valley is associated with many legends and traditions. In Christian legends, it’s used as a symbol of humility. It’s used in many books and narratives to symbolize the return of happiness. Mythology associates the sweet odor of its flowers to the god of Mercury.
It’s part of many country symbols and traditions. France sells it as a yearly Labor Day tradition to mark the beginning of spring. It’s the national flower of Finland, the floral emblem of Yugoslavia, and in the coat-of-arms in Norway. As a popular wedding flower, it was used in Kate Middleton’s bridal bouquet in the royal wedding to Prince William.