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Hello! I want to share with you how glad I was to have listened to my friend's recommendation on where to get lilies-of-the-valley that would thrive and not quickly die. I grew this kind of plant in my backyard a few years ago but to no avail. I almost gave up but thankfully, she referred me to your site, and I found what I needed!
Monica Phillips - San Ramon, CA
Lily of the Valley
Those who want a good first impression of the lily of the valley must know that it is in no way a true lily, unlike what its name says, but a herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the asparagus family. Formally known as Convallaria majalis, the lily of the valley originates from temperate parts of Europe and Asia, but one can also find it across the Northern hemisphere. Its other common names are May Lily, May Bells, Our Lady's Tears, and Ladder-to-Heaven.
This tiny plant has a pair of glossy, tongue-shaped leaves enclosing a single stalk of sweetly-scented flowers. Its minuscule white or soft pink bell-shaped flowers bloom hanging down from their stalks. They appear in the form of a one-sided spike, made of five to fifteen drooping flowers, on top of the flowering stem and sending a pleasant fragrance in the garden, especially during May. That is why the lily of the valley is the most celebrated flower of the month in the US. Its flowers emit a strong, sweet scent that attracts bees responsible for the pollination of this plant.
The lily-of-the-valley can reach fifteen to thirty centimeters or six to twelve inches tall. It has one or two leaves around ten to twenty-five centimeters or four to ten inches long; flowering stems have two plates and a raceme of five to fifteen flowers on the stem apex. It grows in woodlands and mountains, on the sandy, moist, well-drained soil, in the partial or deep shade. It could tolerate direct sunlight but only in areas with cool climates. Under optimal conditions, this plant will quickly spread and form large colonies.
By spreading tiny rhizomes underground, lilies of the valley naturalize quickly and can become invasive in gardens. They are easy to propagate by dividing underground rhizomes, known as "pips," and transplanting in the fall. However, propagation via seed is quite a time-consuming process as germination starts few months after sowing. But if you are up to it, it is best to plant the flowers in their native woodland or a contained area in the yard. Lilies of the valley prefer shade and moist and well-drained loamy soil. However, they will lose their color, even browning, when planted in full sun.
Some issues about this plant are that they spread rapidly, but that is not the only drawback. All parts of the lily of the valley are poisonous if ingested; small amounts of this plant induce abdominal cramps, vomiting, blurred vision, and bradycardia, while large doses induce death due to heart failure. Take note also that this plant also contains thirty-eight different cardiac glycosides. If you take an interest in growing this plant, know first its history but, most importantly, its advantages and disadvantages.
Hence, it is best to wear gloves when handling this plant to prevent any residue from being transmitted to other surfaces, especially food. But with great caution and a better understanding of this plant, you have less to worry about; keep them away from children and curious pets.
The uses of the lily of the valley date back to around 1000 BC, and it is also said to have biblical origins when it supposedly sprang from Eve's tears when God exiled her from the Garden of Eden. In the past, especially during WWI, lilies of the valley were used as an antidote for gas poisoning or treatment of heart disorders, epilepsy, skin burns, and to induce sedation. But because of its toxic nature mentioned above, it is now rarely or never used. Lilies of the valley appeared in wedding bouquets during the Middle Ages and up to these days. Most believe this plant symbolizes modesty, innocence, and purity, and lilies of the valley also signify "return of happiness." Companies grow lilies of the valley for their scent in the cosmetic industry, especially for perfumes.
The care you give to the lilies of the valley is pretty much the same as how you should care for other plants—compared to most; however, they are pretty low-maintenance thanks to their quick adaptability. But for the ideal long-term results, put them in fertile, well-drained soil. Water only when the topsoil or at least a few inches of soil is dry. The best time to water them would be in the morning, as it gives wet foliage some time to dry before nightfall arrives. Mulch this soil to maintain consistent moisture throughout the dry season or summertime. Regarding pests, you do not have to worry too much about the lilies of the valley, as they can be pretty hardy except for damage to the leaves caused by weevils and fungal spotting, wherein you may have to remove and destroy the affected foliage.
Lilies of the valley come in different varieties, and some of the less common types include the C. majlis 'Rosea,' which bears rosy pink flower bulbs. The C. majlis 'Fortin's Giant' has flowers more prominent than the usual lily-of-the-valley, and the C. majlis 'Flore Pleno' is known for its double flowers. Then there are the C. majlis 'Hardwick Hall' for its yellow outline on its leaves; C. majlis 'Albiostriata' for its white streaks lining its foliage. Some other suitable cultivars include the C. majalis' Fernwood's Golden Slippers,' which have attractive golden-green leaves in early spring. The C. majuscule 'Greene' native to North America is an excellent option for a natural ground cover and provides a backdrop for other plants. And finally, there are the C. majlis 'Aureomarginata' with its creamy to yellow-edged leaves, and the C. majlis 'Bordeaux' produces large white flowers on long stalks.