Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)

A creeping perennial this plant can cover woodland floors, displaying its characteristic one-sided bell-shaped flower spike.

Common name: lily-of-the-valley

Scientific name: Convallaria majalis
Family: Liliaceae

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

Leaves: oval in shape, with an untoothed leaf edge. Leaves 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.

Fruit: red berries, which are poisonous.

Not to be confused with...

Ramsons

(Allium ursinum): when in flower this plant can easily be distinguished from lily-of-the-valley as the white flowers are in umbels, each of the flower heads having six petals, unlike the bell-shaped lily-of-the-valley. The leaves however, may often be confused but the leaves of ramsons grow straight from the plant base whereas lily-of-the-valley has two leaves, or sometimes three, on one stem.

Another good identification feature of ramsons is that it smells of garlic. Ramsons can be used in cooking but it is very important not to use this plant if you have any doubts about its identification as it can easily be confused with lily-of-the-valley, which should not be eaten as it is poisonous.

Solomon’s-seal

(Polygonatum multiflorum): also displaying white flowers, with oval, green untoothed leaves, solomon’s-seal can be distinguished as the leaves are alternate growing up the stem and the flowers are longer in shape.

May lily

(Maianthemum bifolium): the leaves may look similar to lily-of-the-valley but the leaves of may lily grow halfway up the stem.

Where and when to find lily-of-the-valley

Where: it is usually found in dry woodlands as it favours calcareous soils but it 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.

When: a perennial which flowers from May to June.

Value to wildlife

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

Uses and folklore

Medicine: traditionally administered as a tonic, it was used to treat heart problems, such as heart disease.

Poetry: a distinctive pretty flower is was often noted in poems, such as that by Thomas Cowherd, ‘Song to the Lily of the Valley’.

Ancient woodland indicator: although a creeping perennial and found in various ancient woodland habitats this species can grow in other habitats and some have escaped from cultivated areas so it cannot be used to distinguish ancient woodland.

Folklore: said to indicate the reappearance of happiness and good tidings the lily-of-the-valley is associated with various folklores including tales of fairies and nightingales.

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