Lily of the Valley

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Convallaria majalis
Convallaria majalis
Convallaria majalis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Asparagales
Family: Ruscaceae
Genus: Convallaria
Species: C. majalis
Binomial name
Convallaria majalis
L.

Convallaria majalis, commonly known as the Lily of the Valley or Lily-of-the-Valley, is the only species in the genus Convallaria in the flowering plant family Ruscaceae, formerly placed in the lily family Liliaceae or in its own family called Convallariaceae. This woodland plant is native throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere in Asia and Europe and a limited native population in Eastern USA [1] (Convallaria majalis var. montana.) It is a herbaceous perennial plant that forms extensive colonies by spreading underground stems called rhizomes that send out stolons. These send up numerous stems each spring. The stems grow to 15-30 cm tall, with one or two leaves 10-25 cm long, flowering stems have two leaves and a raceme of 5-15 flowers on the stem apex. The flowers are white tepals(rarely pink), bell-shaped, 5-10 mm diameter, and sweetly scented; flowering is in late spring, in mild winters in early March. The fruit is a small orange-red berry 5-7 mm diameter that contains a few large whitish to brownish colored seeds that dry to a clear translucent round bead 1 to 3 mm wide. Plants are self-sterile, and colonies of one clone do not set seed.[2]

There are three subspecies [3] that have sometimes been separated out as distinct species by a few botanists.

  • Convallaria majalis var. keiskei - from China and Japan with red fruit and bowl shaped flowers
  • Convallaria majalis var. majalis - from Eurasia with white midribs on the flowers.
  • Convallaria majalis var. montana - from the USA with green tinted midribs on the flowers.

Garden Use

Convallaria majalis is a popular garden plant, grown for the scented flowers. A number of different forms are grown including plants with double flowers, rose colored flowers, plants with variegated foliage and forms with larger size. Some consider it a weed, because it can spread over a wide area of gardens and other places where it is planted and can be difficult to contain or remove.

Lily of the Valley is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Grey Chi.

Herbalism

The leaves and flowers contain cardiac glycosides including convallatoxin, that have been used in medicine for centuries. In overdose, preparations can be poisonous; pets and children can be harmed by eating Lily of the Valley. It also contains convallamarin, which has effects similar to digitalis. Medieval herbalists used it instead of foxglove.

In the First world war it was used to treat victims of Mustard gas.

Lily of the valley should only be used under the supervision of a qualified herbalist.[4]

Legend and tradition

File:Koeh-045.jpg
19th century illustration
File:Lillyvalleystriiped.jpg
Variegated form early in spring.

The flower is also known as Our Lady's tears since, according to Christian legend, the tears Mary shed at the cross turned to Lilies of the Valley. According to another legend, Lilies of the Valley also sprang from the blood of St. George during his battle with the dragon. Other names include May Lily, May Bells, Lily Constancy, Ladder-to-Heaven, Male Lily and Muguet.

Traditionally, Lily of the Valley is sold in the streets of France on May 1. Lily of the Valley became the national flower of Finland in 1982. The Norwegian municipality Lunner has a Lily of the Valley in its coat-of-arms. It is the official flower of Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, Kappa Sigma fraternity, Delta Omicron fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, and Alpha Phi sorority.

The name "Lily of the Valley" is also used in some English translations of the Bible in Song of Songs 2:1, although whether the Hebrew word "shoshana" originally used there refers to this species or not is uncertain. The meaning of this flower is "You will find Happiness."

File:Convallaria-oliv-r2.jpg
Convallaria close-up

References

  1. Flora of North America : Convallaria majalis
  2. Life-history monographs of Japanese plants. 6: Convallaria keiskei Miq. (Convallariaceae) Authors: OHARA, MASASHI; ARAKI, KIWAKO1; YAMADA, ETSUKO1; KAWANO, SHOICHI Source: Plant Species Biology, Volume 21, Number 2, August 2006, pp. 119-126(8)Publisher: Blackwell Publishing
  3. Flora of China: Convallaria majalis
  4. Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies, (Century, 1987); p168

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