The Lily of the valley is actually one of my favourite flower. It sometimes written as Lily-of-the-valley. It also has a number of alternative common names, like Mayflower, Little Maybells, Jacob’s Ladder, Fairy Cups, in my language, we call them Pearl flower (literal translation).
The scientific name is Convallaria majalis, it belongs to the Asparagaceae family, therefore it is related to bluebells and scillas and hyacinths.
In the Convallaria genus, there is only three species recognized: Convallaria majalis L., Convallaria montana Raf. and Convallaria keiskei Miq. (source: PlantList). Some people don’t recognize more than one species for this genus, but I believe PlantList and IPNI.
The Maybells has a slight sweet scent, it is highly poisonous, and just as the Forget-me-not, it comes in three colours, pink, blue and white as well. The same as the Forget-me-not, it cannot produce yellow, orange or red flowers.
The Lily of the Valley is a woodland plant, that means you can mostly find it in forests and in general, shaded places. (At home for me it grows under a bluebeard bush shaded by a Tilia tree. If it likes the place, it can spread like crazy, I mean really, unstoppable.)
The plant native in the Northern hemisphere, Europe and Asia in generally a cooler temperature.
When I say highly poisonous, I mean highly. After the flowers wither it produces red berries which can be attractive to children, so be aware of that! After consuming and digested, it can cause stomach pain, vomiting, blurred vision, dizziness and reduced heart rate – it has 38 cardiac glycosides, which messes with the heart rate!!!!
They used to use it in folk remedies. Another example, that just because our ancestors used something, it doesn’t mean, it was good! It is HIGHLY poisonous!
My forensic science teacher told us how many poisoning they have each year when people decide to collect wild onion leaves in the forest without botanical knowledge and they end up in hospital, because they consumed the leaves of Lily of the valley.
But as a plant known for our ancestors, it also has several legends attached to it.
In Christian traditions they used to call it “Our Lady’s Tears” or “Mary’s tears” as they believed it sprung from the tears of Mary under the crucified Christ. Other legends says, it sprung from Eve’s tears as they had to leave the Garden of Eden.
It is a symbol of humility on religious paintings.
In the language of flowers it means sweetness, Tears of the Virgin Mary, Return to Happiness, Humility. Sending it as a message is: “You’ve Made My Life Complete”.
There is a legend where a lily of the valley was attracted to a nightingale that did not come back to the valley until the lily bloomed in May.
Even its Latin name refers to the month May, “majalis” literally means “of or belonging to May”. Its first latin name – Convallaria – probably refers to its habitat as it means “narrow, enclosed valley”.