- Lily Of The Valley Varieties – Growing Different Types Of Lily Of The Valley Plants
- Common Types of Lily of the Valley
- Other Kinds of Lily of the Valley Plants
- Shrubs That Look Like a Lily of the Valley
- Japanese Pieris
- Mountain Pieris
- Gardening: Lily of the Valley
- Seven Wonders
- Tips and Sources
Lily Of The Valley Varieties – Growing Different Types Of Lily Of The Valley Plants
Lily of the valley plants produce a delicate, fragrant flower that is unmistakable and a great addition to the garden (provided you manage to keep their spread in check). But what kind of selection is out there? There’s a lot more to lily of the valley than just its sweet scent. Keep reading to learn more about the different lily of the valley plant types.
Common Types of Lily of the Valley
Common lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) has dark green leaves, tops out at about 10 inches (25 cm.) in height and produces small, extremely fragrant, white flowers. As long as it’s contained from taking over the garden, you can’t go wrong with this variety. There are, however, a large number of interesting cultivars that set themselves apart.
Other Kinds of Lily of the Valley Plants
Lily of the valley doesn’t necessarily mean white flowers anymore. There are many lily of the valley varieties that produce pink blooms. “Rosea” is a cultivar of the plant that has flowers with a pink tinge to them. The amount and depth of the pink can vary from specimen to specimen.
Another way to introduce more color to your lily of the valley patch is to choose a variety with variegated leaves. “Albomarginata” has white edges, while “Albostriata” has white stripes that fade somewhat to green as the summer wears on.
Yellow and bright light-green striping can be found in varieties like “Aureovariegata,” “Hardwick Hall,” and “Crema da Mint.” “Fernwood’s Golden Slippers” emerges with all-over yellow foliage that never quite fades to green.
Some more interesting kinds of lily of the valley varieties are grown for their size. “Bordeaux” and “Flore Pleno” will grow to a foot (30 cm.) tall. “Fortin Giant” can reach all the way to 18 inches (30-45 cm.) in height. “Flore Pleno,” as well as being tall, produces large double flowers. “Dorien” also has larger than normal flowers.
Shrubs That Look Like a Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley on black image by Eva Floxsy from Fotolia.com
A search for shrubs that look like lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) will take gardeners outside that sweetly fragrant spring flower’s family. Lily of the valley, says the University of Idaho’s advanced master gardener Michelle Tullis, is the Ruscaceae family’s single Convallaria species member. Other plant families, however, contain ornamental shrubs that mimic the delicate, urn-like blooms of lily of the valley. Their spring flowers coincide with convallaria’s. Some also have colorful fall or winter foliage.
A graceful and tough evergreen shrub, Japanese pieris (Pieris Japonica) can survive temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees F, which occur in USDA plant hardiness zone 5. The ‘Forest Flame’ Japanese pieris hybrid is a compact plant, standing 4 to 7 feet high and wide. Its brilliant red, new spring foliage fades to pink before taking on the glossy green it will keep through the rest of the year. In March and April, its hanging clusters of urn-shaped, white blooms appear. It has earned the nickname “lily-of-the-valley bush.” The plant likes a sunny to partly shady, well-drained location with protection from strong wind, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. It grows best in humus-rich, moist, acidic soil with a pH below 6.8.
Decididuous fetterbush is a shrub of the lower New England and southern thickets, where it grows around ponds and streams. Standing between 4 and 6 1/2 feet high, with a similar spread, it has vivid green leaves. Between April and August, white lily of the valley-like blooms hang in rows from its twigs. Its red autumn foliage provides additional garden interest, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Fetterbush grows best in partial shade and moist, acidic sandy or loamy soil. Note that its foliage, flowers and nectar are toxic to cattle.
Tolerating zone 4 winters with temperatures plunging to minus 30 degrees F, evergreen mountain pieris (Pieris floribunda) grows on moist, wooded slopes across the South. It usually stands from 3 to 4 feet high and wide. Its rounded, bushy form has dense, bark-concealing foliage. In April, the ends of its stems bear linear, 3- to 4-inch clusters of white, urn-shaped flowers. The fragrant blooms contrast strikingly with the glossy green leaves. Cutting back the spent flowers results in a heavier bloom the following spring, according to the University of Connecticut Plant Database. Mountain pieris tolerates full sun to partial shade. It performs best in a well-drained, acidic location with protection from winter wind and excessive heat.
Lily-of-the-Valley, Convallaria majalis. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Convallaria majalis, or Lily-of-the-Valley, is a herbacious perennial plant found in woodlands in the northern hemisphere.
The leaves of C. majalis resemble Allium ursinum, the familiar wild food plant commonly known as Ramsons or Wild Garlic. Like Ramsons, Lily-of-the-Valley can form extensive colonies, covering areas of woodland floor such as at St. Leonards in Sussex.
A colony of Ramsons, Allium ursinum. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
While Ramsons, A. ursinum, are edible, Lily-of-the-Valley, C. majalis, is highly poisonous. All parts of the plant contain cardiac glycosides, as well as saponins, and the mechanism of poisoning works in a similar way to Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea.
Most cases of poisoning from Lily-of-the-Valley are due to people, especially children, eating the bright red berries the plant produces later in the year. Vomiting usually limits the absorption of the toxins but in extreme cases ingestion can cause coma or death.
There are also cases on record, however, of poisoning from the leaves of C. majalis being mistaken for the leaves of A. ursinum and added to soups or fried with other ingredients. Signs and symptoms included flushed skin, nausea, dizziness, headache, weakness, hallucinations and changes in heart rate.
Leaves of Convallaria majalis, Lily-of-the-Valley (left), and Allium ursinum, Ramsons (right). Photo: Paul Kirtley.
In the UK Lily-of-the-Valley typically flowers in May-June, while Ramsons bloom in April-May. In other parts of Europe Lily-of-the-Valley is particularly associated with the month of May. Indeed, majalis in its scientific name means “of or belonging to May”.
When either A. ursinum or C. majalis is in flower, it is straightforward to tell the plants apart. While the flowers of both plants are white, they are easy to distinguish. Ramsons have a clustered globe of white flowers at the end of an upright stem, while Lily-of-the-Valley has drooping bell-shaped flowers arranged along a stem.
The flowers of Lily-of-the-Valley, Convallaria majalis, (left) and Ramsons, Allium ursinum, (right). Photos: Paul Kirtley.
It’s only when both plants have leaves present but neither have flowers that the two look similar.
There are differences though.
First, the leaves of Ramsons emanate singly at the base of the plant, while Lily-of-the-Valley has two (or three) leaves on the same stem:
Compare the leaf arrangement of Lily-of-the-Valley (left) and Ramsons (right). Lily-of-the-Valley has two or three leaves per plant on a stem whereas Ramsons leaves all emanate singly at the base of the plant. Photo: Paul
Also, on close inspection, the structure of the leaves is different:
A close-up of the underside of the leaves of Lily-of-the-Valley (left) and Ramsons (right) shows a difference in structure and surface texture of the leaves. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
The most obvious difference, however, is not visual; it is olfactory. That is, the leaves of Ramsons, Allium ursinum, smell strongly of garlic. The leaves of Lily-of-the-Valley, Convallaria majalis do not smell of garlic or onions at all.
So, as long as you don’t just rely on your sense of vision, you should not confuse Lily-of-the-Valley for Ramsons or other members of the Allium genus.
Engaging your sense of smell allows you to make the distinction easily: Discard any leaves that look like Ramsons but do not smell of garlic/onions when crushed.
A final note on this: Regular handling of Lily-of-the-Valley can cause dermatitis, so it would be worth washing your hands with soap and water if you do crush any these leaves to smell them.
I’d be interested to know if Lily-of-the-Valley grows near you or if you’ve seen this plant on your travels. Please let me know in the comments.
Best Practice while Foraging
Please read the BSBI’s Code of Conduct for the Conservation and Enjoyment of Wild Plants for guidance on the best practice (and UK laws) relating to foraging for wild plant foods.
This article is meant only as a guide and is largely a record of my recent forages. It is not a complete treatment of all edible plants that might be available. Nor does it provide a complete treatment of all poisonous plants that may also be present in the habitat where you find the above-mentioned plants. If you want to learn more about plant identification you should invest in some good field guides. The safest way to learn about edible wild plants is for someone who already has the knowledge to show you in person. Any foraging you do on your own is at your own risk.
The most important thing to remember when identifying wild foods is:
IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT!
Recommended Books for Further Reading
Related Articles on Paul Kirtley’s Blog
Foraging for Early Spring Greens: Some to Eat, Some to Avoid
Conopodium majus: Pignuts and How to Forage for them
Primrose, Primula vulgaris: Wild food?
Common Dog-violet, Viola riviniana
Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria Holostea
Gardening: Lily of the Valley
Have you ever known someone dainty, attractive, and exceedingly charming, yet surprisingly determined? Many gardeners would describe the diminutive lily of the valley as just such a character.
With its deeply fragrant flowers — scallop-edge bells that dangle above bright emerald-green leaves — this nearly deer-proof shade lover appears to be delicate in an old-fashioned way. But the pretty plant is also an intrepid wanderer, spreading readily and rapidly, and anyone who gardens in a small space will want to watch this perennial to make sure it stays in bounds.
Convallaria majalis gets its botanical name from the Latin words for “valley” (vallis) — its natural habitat in Europe and parts of Asia, where it thrives in shady nooks — and “May-blooming” (majalis). Many nurseries list lily of the valley as restricted to full shade, but the plant (hardy in Zones 3 to 8) will tolerate bright shade and even some sun.
As a ground cover under tall trees or large woody shrubs, lily of the valley is hard to match for its long blooming period during the growing season. The tidy leaves can grow six to 10 inches tall, depending on the variety, and produce arching flowers that last several weeks, followed in fall by orange-red berries.
Give your rooted plantlets (called “pips”) good soil with even moisture and they will reward you by quickly covering a lot of ground, even in problematic areas around trees. The plants spread by aggressively extending their horizontal roots just under the soil’s surface and sprouting leaf-bearing stems every few inches, hence their reputation for assertiveness.
The plant’s heavenly scent, however, has proved much harder to replicate, at least for perfumers. To Calice Becker, executive perfumer for the Swiss fragrance company Givaudan, part of the scent’s appeal lies in its elusiveness outside nature. “Lily of the valley is one of those flower essences that perfumery is not able to extract,” she says.
The tiny flowers make the process too labor intensive and expensive. Fragrance companies instead produce sophisticated synthetic versions, usually labeled muguet, the plant’s French name. Gardeners, however, can content themselves with the real thing when lily of the valley flowers each spring.
Ellen Hornig, a former nursery owner who grows five varieties in Oswego, New York, has been cultivating lilies of the valley for 20 years and continually adds to her collection, even if the plants are a bit unruly. “Let’s face it; they aren’t polite,” she says.
Hornig suggests putting them next to vigorous woody shrubs and trees and keeping a close eye on them. The best way to control unbridled growth is to dig up any unwanted plants right after they finish blooming and give them to gardening friends — with fair warning.
One of Hornig’s favorites, ‘Fernwood’s Golden Slippers,’ has chartreuse foliage, which retains its bright yellow-green color throughout summer. Another variety, ‘Flore Pleno,’ is an older type admired for its large double flowers held high up, providing easier viewing. No wonder gardeners can’t resist letting the ambitious little species have the run of the place — within reason, of course.
1 . Convallaria majalis ‘Fernwood’s Golden Slippers’ emerges bright yellow-green and holds its color throughout summer.
2. ‘Hardwick Hall’ is a vigorous grower with chartreuse edges on the leaves.
3. The broad deep-green foliage of ‘Albomarginata’ is edged with a white line.
4. ‘Albostriata’ has white-streaked leaves and an open habit that shows off blooms.
5. ‘Rosea’ produces pink-tinged flowers.
6. ‘Flore Pleno’ is a robust grower with larger, double-bell flowers.
7. The straight species, or pure version, is among the taller varieties, growing up to 10 inches.
Tips and Sources
Good to Know
Having flower trouble? Over the years, a thick patch of lily of the valley may become congested with its own roots, which can compromise flowering. Rejuvenate your beds by taking out a third or so of the pips and adding some fresh soil and compost. The blossoms will return the following season.
- Forest Farm
- Klehm’s Song Sparrow
- Odyssey Bulbs
- White Flower Farm
Create charming accents with tiny Lily of the Valley flowers. Featuring white bell-shaped blooms that hang down on their stalks, these adorable flowers have a strong scent that sends a pleasant aroma throughout your yard. With varieties that grow to be only around 6 to 8 inches tall, these Dutch-sourced lily of the valley plants look right at home in spring gardens or planted underneath trees and shrubs. You can also use these little plants as borders along walkways and paths to create an enchanting landscape.
As exceptional spreaders, it’s important to plant your lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) where they’ll have plenty of room to multiply. To control the spread, you can plant them in outdoor containers. This type of plant grows well in climate hardiness zones 2 to 9, and they prefer shade, but can also tolerate full sun. Plant the roots approximately 2 inches below the soil line and about 6 to 8 inches apart for late spring blooms. Lily of the valley plants require moist and well-drained soil. Easy to care for, these deer-resistant perennials are native to North America, and feature sword-like medium green foliage. Some varieties can grow over a foot tall, but most varieties stay below a foot.
Lily of the valley plants make a charming addition to a woodland garden. Consider pairing them with geraniums, hostas, tiger lilies and asters. Create accents to entryways or force blooms indoors by planting them in containers. Plant them in masses in fields and meadows, allowing them to spread their beautiful blooms naturally throughout your landscape. Create a splendid shade garden using these lily of the valley blooms with astilbe, begonias and meadow rue for charming colour and variety. Add these dainty beauties to freshly cut bouquets to create a beautiful arrangement. Delight in the sweet fragrance and dainty blooms of lily of the valley flowers.