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There is still snow on the hills here in Scotland, but it is May! And this month’s flower of the month is the delicate Lily of the Valley. Here we look at this wild and ancient flower, uncover its symbolic meanings, dangerous qualities, and some beautifully inspired gift ideas for May occasions. So, let’s get started!
Lily of the Valley Flowers
Lily of the Valley, sometimes written as Lily-of-the-valley, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant with highly scented white flowers. Its scientific name is Convallaria majalis but it's often better known by its common names such as May Bells, Our Lady’s Tears or Mary’s Tears.
Lily of the Valley can be identified by its large, smooth, oval shaped leaves (that grow between 10-25 cm in length) and its bell-shaped white flowers.
Each flowering stem of Lily of the Valley has two leaves and one raceme (an unbranched flower spike) where the flowers form. Each raceme can have between five and fifteen flowers which all grow on the same side of the spike creating a drooping arc affect.
Lily of the Valley flowers have six white tepals that are fused at the base to form a dainty enclosed bell-shape. They flower between May and June and subsequently form bright orange-red berries in late Summer (see photo below of formed berries)
The flowers don’t last long however, so you really are lucky if you manage to catch a glimpse of them.
Lily of the Valley form from creeping rootstalks, also known as rhizomes, that spread underground. Because of this, large groups of Lily of the Valley can quite quickly carpet the woodland floor, but often these great swathes of plants are actually clones of a single plant. In these instances, the flowers do not form fertile seeds but instead new plants are established on shoots that form from the underground rhizomes.
Where to Find
Lily of the Valley are native to the Northern Hemisphere and are found in cool temperate woodlands. They favour dry wooded areas and grow best in chalky, alkaline soil.
Although they are found in many parts of the UK, they are not commonly found growing wild in Scotland or Ireland. But many cultivated varieties do grow happily in gardens here.
Other varieties are found as far east as Japan and eastern Asia and over on the Easter states of America.
Here in the UK, Lily of the Valley has special meaning as they are known as an ancient-woodland-indicator species.
The Woodland Trust states that ancient woodlands have been around for 100s of years (since 1600 in England and Wales and around 1750 here in Scotland). Because of their longevity, ancient woodlands are home to unique communities of flora and fauna that are not found anywhere else.
Just like rain forests in the tropics, ancient woodlands are in desperate need of protection to ensure these extraordinary environments survive and most importantly, last for years to come.
A Poisonous Plant
Lily of the Valley may be a beautiful and sometimes understated flower, but it has dark properties too in the form of cardenolides.
Cardenolides are a group of organic compounds which are highly toxic if consumed by humans or animals. They are toxic to the heart, brain and gut which can lead to serious illness and even death.
Lily of the Valley contains not just 1 or 2 of these poisonous substances, but 38.
Every part of the plant is toxic to humans, including the berries that form in late summer, so care should always be taken around them, especially with children and pets.
If you do want to bring these pretty flowers indoors however then always wear gloves when collecting them and remember that the vase water will be toxic after use too.
Despite being highly toxic to humans, surprisingly the larvae of some moth and butterfly species, as well as adult leaf beetles, actually use Lily of the Valley as a food plant.
It may come as a shock, especially if you have just read how toxic these plants are, but one of the main meaning associated with Lily of the Valley is physical heart health.
However, this meaning goes back hundreds of years and shows just how accurate ancient herbal medicines really are.
Although the chemicals found in Lily of the Valley are toxic to humans when ingested, they have been used to treat heart conditions for centuries. Even in modern medicine today, they are used in treatments for congestive heart failure.
More well known meanings of these beautiful flowers however are happiness, innocence and sweetness.
You may also have noted that Lily of the Valley flowers are a popular choice of wedding flowers, especially in the Royal Family as they also represent purity of heart, life purpose and most importantly luck in love.
Lilly of the Valley Gift Ideas
Lily of the Valley Concrete tile by RachelDein
1. Lily of the Valley Concrete tile by RachelDein
This stunning Lily of the Valley concrete tile has been handmade using a cast of real flowers and leaves. It's a stunning decoration for any room and is a beautiful reminder of these delicate flowers all year round.
Tiles can be wall mounted like a picture, stood on a mantle piece or cemented onto a wall to create a stunning fire surround or focal point.
Bring a bit of the wild into your home with one of Rachel's stunning and completely exquisite pieces of botanical art.
2. Porcelain Lily of the Valley Jewellery
This dainty Lily of the Valley porcelain necklace makes a beautiful gift. It can be bought separately or as a set, along with the matching earrings (as photographed opposite).
This hand-crafted, and hand painted ceramic necklace is set on an 18 inch sterling silver chain. The earrings also come on sterling silver hooks for those with sensitivities.
Such a pretty gift idea for May birthdays or brides!
3. Lily of the Valley Sox Wax Candle
This is such a lovely May gift idea. A Lily of the Valley soy wax candle in an eco friendly aluminium tin.
These lovely vegan friendly candles have been handmade in small batches right here in the UK.
They have approximately 45 hours of burning time and contain no nasty chemicals, just glorious scent. And what's more, the label can be personalised with your own special message too!
4. Lily of the Valley Card
The perfect greetings card for May birthdays or special occasions.
This lovely greetings card featuring an image of a Lily of the Valley plant. It has been designed using original drawings and watercolour by Amelie Dubois. It has been printed onto white card and comes with a brown kraft envelope making it fully recyclable after use.
The card is left blank inside for your own special message.
5. Lily of the Valley Wire Art
A contemporary sculpture of wire and driftwood art, such a beautiful home decor piece for any room.
As these pieces are hand sculpted in binding wire and set onto individual driftwood stumps, they are all unique. These would make really unusual, decorative presents for May weddings, birthdays or even as a new home gift.
Sculptures are approximately 17cm high and come signed by the artist with a wire signature.
So as you can see, our May flower of the month is the beautiful Lily of the Valley. This blog post is part of my Flower of the Month series that I will be sharing through 2021. You can take a look at the pervious post April Flower Of The Month here and Junes Flower of the Month here.
Thanks so much for reading,