Quick facts

Common name(s): Lily-of-the-valley, May bells, Our Lady’s tears, Mary’s tears

Scientific name: Convallaria majalis

Family: Lilies

Origin: native

Flowering season: May to June

Habitat: woodland

What does lily-of-the-valley look like?

Lily-of-the-valley is a sweet and understated perennial which thrives on woodland floors.

Leaves: oval in shape, with an untoothed leaf edge. They are basal and grow in pairs.

Flowers: white in colour and bell-shaped. They grow in a one-sided spike which droops to one side.

Fruits/seeds: bright red berries, which are poisonous.

Not to be confused with: wild garlic (Allium ursinum) when the plants are not in flower. Wild garlic has leaves which form at the base of the plant, whereas Lily of the Valley can have two or more leaves on a stem split further up the plant. When in flower the plants are easily distinguishable from each other – wild garlic flowers are star-shaped, while the lily-of-the-valley’s flowers are bell-shaped. Another good identification feature of wild garlic is the smell – which is unmistakably garlicky.

Solomon’s-seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) is another plant lily-of-the-valley might be confused with. Though Solomon’s seal also displays white flowers, they are longer in shape. Also, its oval, green, untoothed leaves grow alternately up the stem unlike lily-of-the-valley’s which grow in pairs.

May lily (Maianthemum bifolium) has leaves which may look similar to those of lily-of-the-valley but they grow halfway up the stem.

Where to find lily-of-the-valley

Lily-of-the-valley is usually found in dry woodlands. It favours chalky soils and can also be found in limestone pavements as well as gardens. This plant is located in various areas of the UK but is not common in Scotland or Ireland.

Trees woods and wildlife

A sign of ancient woodland

Lily-of-the-valley is an ancient-woodland-indicator plant. If you spot it while you're out exploring, it could be a sign you're standing in a rare and special habitat.

Learn more about ancient woodland

Value to wildlife

Bees collect pollen from this species as they are attracted by the plant’s sweet smell and flowers.

Did you know?

Lily-of-the-valley has strong biblical connections and is said to have first bloomed where Eve’s tears fell as she left the Garden of Eden.

Mythology and symbolism

A distinctive, pretty flower it was often noted in poems, such as Song to the Lily of the Valley by Thomas Cowherd.
It has also been associated with various folklores, including tales of fairies and nightingales.

Did you know?

Its flowers are thought to bring luck in love and so are very popular in wedding bouquets.

Uses of lily-of-the-valley

Lily-of-the-valley can be used to help identify ancient woodland, though it does occur in other woodland habitats. This is known as an ancient-woodland indicator.

In traditional medicine, a tonic made from lily-of-the-valley was used to treat heart problems.

Lily-of-the-valley is a very popular perfume scent and is also grown for its use in floristry.