Yellow lily of the valley

Lily Of The Valley Has Yellow Leaves – Reasons For Yellow Lily Of The Valley Leaves

Lily of the valley is known for its sweet fragrance and delicate white nodding flowers. When those two things are accompanied with yellow foliage, it’s time to dig a little deeper to figure out what’s wrong. Keep reading to learn more about yellowing lily of the valley plants.

About Yellow Leaves on Lily of the Valley

Everyone has their “pet” plant. That one specimen or stand that they’d throw any kind of treatment at or try any crazy thing just to keep it going another day. For a lot of gardeners that plant is lily of the valley. That’s why when lily of the valley has yellow leaves, gardeners start to panic – and rightfully so.

Yellow leaves on lily of the valley could mean a lot of different things, some that are easy, some that are not so easy. Because of this, it’s important to explore reasons why your lily of the valley has yellow leaves so you’ll know what appropriate steps, if any, to take next.

Why is My Lily of the Valley Turning Yellow?

Yellowing lily of the valley plants may be an alarming sight if you’re new to growing them, but yellow lily of the valley leaves don’t always spell disaster. In fact, if it’s getting close to the end of the growing season, it could simply indicate that your plant is going dormant to prepare for its grand entrance next year.

Even though lily of the valley are pretty tough plants, they do sometimes get sick, so if the timing seems wrong or you notice other signs that might point to a sick plant, consider these common causes of yellow lily of the valley leaves:

Rusts. Rust problems often start out as yellow spots with rust-colored fungal spores on the underside of the leaf. This fungal disease looks pretty serious, but if you catch it early, you can treat it with fungicide and it will clear up. Just make sure to alleviate conditions that favor fungal growth, like overcrowding and overly wet soil.

Foliar nematode. If just the areas between the veins are turning yellow, before ultimately turning brown, you may have a problem with foliar nematodes. These buggers are hard to get rid of, so the best bet is to destroy infected plants. In the future, don’t water the leaves of your lily of the valley to discourage foliar nematodes from invading.

Stem rot. When your lily of the valley has yellow specks on the surface of its leaves, it could point to stem rot. Spots may be yellow or grayish, but they’ll quickly turn brown as the fungus spreads to the crown. There’s no way to save this plant, unfortunately, so it’s best to discard it and either sterilize the soil around it or discard that as well so you don’t spread the fungus.

Convallaria majalis

The first time I encountered lily of the valley, I smelled it before I saw it.

I was hiking near a forested swamp and was caught off guard by something that smelled pleasant. But aren’t swamps places for fetid odors and that delicate, lingering stench of standing water? I wondered what it could be.

I followed my sniffer and spotted a large patch of green-leaved plants with stalks of hanging white flowers. It took half a moment to identify what I was seeing because absorbing plant and animal ID guides was a favorite pastime when I was growing up.

These white flowers left an impression on me, and I knew they had to go in my family’s garden. It took some shopping (this was before smartphones and the “Everybody Gets a Website” age), but we acquired some and planted them. Beautiful, fragrant flowers, here I come!

Flash forward a couple of years and that little patch dedicated to lily of the valley grew into a huge swath of nearly uncontrollable green. It took a few seasons of dedicated removal, but we did finally curb the lily of the valley, and added some plastic barriers to prevent it from spreading more in the future.

It’s a beautiful plant with a delightful and aromatic scent, but adding it to the garden without the right preparation can lead to major headaches in the future. Let’s get into what lily of the valley is all about, and how to add it to your yard and garden with minimal future fuss.

What is Lily of the Valley?

Botanically known as Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley grows naturally throughout the northern hemisphere in Europe, Asia, and North America. Also known as May bells, May lily, muguet, Mary’s tears, and Our Lady’s tears, the plant is highly scented flowering herbaceous perennial that normally grows in woodland and forested settings and in cooler, temperate regions.

C. majalis is a perennial plant. Two basal leaves grow from the ground and have a lovely flower stalk that pops from between, and it is adorned with up to 15 tiny, fragrant, bell-shaped flowers.

In cooler climates, the leaves can stay year-round, but they tend to shrivel and disappear during hot weather.

Lily of the valley is related to asparagus and grows through stolons and rhizomes, spreading out into huge colonies. This eagerness to spread is why it becomes so difficult to tame in the garden, unless properly restricted.

A Beautiful Standard

Many countries in Europe are awfully fond of lily of the valley. It’s a traditional (and expensive) bridal bouquet flower for weddings, including the bouquet used in the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

It’s the birth flower of the month of May, the time of year when lily of the valley is most often in full display. C. majalis is also the floral emblem of Yugoslavia, and is Finland’s national flower.

In Christian mythology, lily of the valley is said to have sprung from the ground where the Virgin Mary’s tears fell during the crucifixion. Alternatively, the plant is said to have sprung from the ground when Eve weeped for being kicked out of the Garden of Eden.

The attention to Christian mythology is what earns the plant its nickname, “Mary’s tears.” It also spawned a popular gospel tune by Willie Nelson. It isn’t my style, but hey, maybe you’ll enjoy it!

Beautiful But Poisonous

C. majalis is incredibly toxic. Seriously, every part of the plant is poisonous.

If you’ve got it in the yard or see it in the field, make sure children and animals abstain from eating the red berries, or chomping on the leaves or flowers.

The plant possesses nearly 40 different cardiac glycosides, an organic compound used to treat congestive heart issues. However, in anything but accurate and meticulously measured amounts, these toxins can prove to be deadly.

Lily of the valley produces a very rare amino acid as well, but this also contributes to the toxicity of the plant.

It’s better to be safe than sorry, so wash your hands after handling C. majalis to avoid accidental contamination.


The plant generally spreads by forming large colonies through rhizomes (underground root-like stems) from which it produces upright spiky shoots (often called “pips”) at the end of the stolons during the summer.

The pips grow to into 6–12 inch stems and produce one or two 4–10 inch upright dark-green, spear-like leaves. All of the upright stems remain connected underground with other shoots and form large colonies if left unchecked.

Lily of the valley can also spread itself by producing orange-red berries with several seeds each.

However, the plant is self-sterile meaning that it requires multiple individual plants for pollination that aren’t connected by a rhizome/stolon structure. If a mass of Lily of the Valley is based from one single plant forming a colony, they’ll never grow berries.

Bloom Type

Lily of the valley produces strands (raceme) of five to fifteen small, bell-shaped flowers form as strands on top of a single stem above the leaves. Each bloom consists of six white (most common) or pink tepals. The flowers are extremely fragrant and are used in perfumes and potpourri.

As previously mentioned, these flowers can produce red berries with seeds if conditions are right.

Bloom Time

Lily of the valley typically flowers in early to mid spring for three or four weeks – which is significantly longer than most other spring perennials. In colder climates their bloom time may start later and extend into early summer.

This fragrant woodland perennial can also be used as a houseplant and be forced into blooming anytime of the year.

Growing Conditions

C. majalis is at its best in areas with a cool winter, although it will grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 2-9.

I spotted my first lily of the valley adjacent to a low, wet, and swampy patch in the forest. In the years since then I’ve encountered C. majalis in similar locations, and its preferred habitat tends to include a few key features:

  • Shaded from the sun, often growing around the base of trees
  • Rich, slightly acidic soil (pH 6-6.5), like the kind you’ll get from the forest floor
  • Moist and well drained soil
  • Space to spread out and grow

When we plant lily of the valley in our yards, it’s our goal to duplicate these conditions as best we can.

Planting for Success

This is one of those garden additions that grows like wild, but only when the right conditions are met. I’ve got a patch of it growing in my front yard underneath a yew hedge that is very unhappy, so believe me when I tell you: you want to make C. majalis happy.

Luckily, it’s easy to take care of that. Here are some things to keep in mind:


Lily of the valley really digs its time in the shade. I think it does the best when it gets some morning light, maybe a few hours worth, and gets to kick back in the cool shade from about 10 a.m. onward.

Although it can handle more sun, in exchange, it needs much more water to perform. And in conditions that are too sunny, it simply won’t bloom.

As the season carries on and we are bombarded with summer sun, expect to see your C. majalis wilting, getting crispy, and looking otherwise unpleasant. This is a natural and expected phase for the plant.

Simply cut back and remove the leaves once they’re more crispy than green to clean up the area.


This plant is a fan of plenty of water and good drainage. Most of the wild lily of the valley I’ve encountered was growing on a slope where it received plenty of water runoff, but didn’t sit in stagnant pools.

If your location for lily of the valley is in a sunny locale, it’ll need plenty of extra water.

This was, I think, the primary failing of my own chunk of C. majalis. The front yard outside of my house is very dry and seemingly impossible to keep wet with a hose. I started using a soaker hose near the high point of summer and it worked well; just keep in mind that the longer your run of hose is, the weaker the pressure is going to be.

Swan Miracle Gro 25-Foot Soaker System

Try to keep your hose length at 25 feet or so. I purchased this product, available from Amazon, and have no complaints. I run a length of 20 foot hose from the spigot to the soaker hose and it works wonderfully.

Mulch aids in watering, but we’ll touch on that in the next section.



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Product photos via Swan, Bonide, and Burpee. Uncredited photos: .

About Matt Suwak

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.


Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley’s pure white flowers and enchanting fragrance have assured its popularity in flower vases and summer wedding bouquets. It is so highly regarded in Finland that it became the national flower in 1982. It is also an impressive ornamental which has been eagerly transplanted into yards and gardens for generations. Lily of the valley is perhaps at its best, however, in its natural habitats in forest margins and light-filled broad-leaved forests.

Lily of the valley is quite common in southern and central Finland, but it becomes rarer towards the north. The borders of its territory are around Kittilä and Salla, but there are even separate stands in Utsjoki. Coherent lily of the valley stands are usually one and the same vegetatively spreading plant. As the root branches and gets longer the stand expands by about 12 cm (4.8 in.) annually, so the size of the stand is a good guide to its age, as well as the age of the whole forest. The largest stands are thought to be 200–300 years old.

Only a few percent of lily of the valley’s shoots flower, and in a harsh environment they can be completely lacking. Its flowers have no nectar, but their strong fragrance tempts a large group of pollen gatherers. The ripe red berries might look delicious, but they are deadly poison to all mammals. Birds can however eat them and spread the seeds to new habitats. Lily of the valley’s flowers and leaves are also poisonous and unsuitable for plant-eaters except the small, scarlet shining leaf beetle.

Lily of the valley’s scientific name is based on a biblical song in which a girl compares herself to a lily of the valley. In the original text the plant in question was probably the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), which grows in Finland as an ornamental, but in Europe lily of the valley used to be called Lilium convallium until Linné changed this to its current scientific name. Lily of the valley has had many colloquial names that refer to the tongue-like shape of its leaves. One wonders if lily of the valley would have become the Finnish national flower if it had been called e.g. cow’s tongue.

Other species from the same family

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Treating Diseased Lily Of The Valley Plants – Symptoms Of Lily Of The Valley Disease

There are some plants that it almost breaks your heart to see sick. Lily of the valley is one of those plants. Loved by so many, lily of the valley is one that’s worth trying to save, when you can. Read on to learn how to treat sick lily of the valley, as well as ways to keep your plants healthier.

Lily of the Valley Disease Problems

In many parts of the world, spring just isn’t spring without the delicate and fragrant notes of the ancient lily of the valley. These hardy plants can be used as small spotlights or huge mass plantings in your landscape, either will be completely show-stopping. That’s why it’s all the more upsetting when lily of the valley falls ill.

Fortunately, there are very few diseases of lily of the valley that are of note, so you’ll know what to do if your plants do become suddenly ill if you read on.

How to Treat Sick Lily of the Valley Plants

Diseased lily of the valley plants are often succumbing to fungal pathogens that have been encouraged by growing conditions that may have been getting steadily worse for years. Since these plants are so tough, they don’t always show signs of sickness until you have a big problem. The best things you can do for your lily of the valley planting are to ensure that you’re thinning your plants every year and that the site where they’re planted drains well. These two little things will help discourage lily of the valley disease issues like those that follow:

Leaf spots. Leaf spots can form when lily of the valley foliage is watered using a sprinkler or water stands on the leaves long enough to encourage fungal spore development. Spots are usually small and water soaked, eventually spreading outward or developing spores in the centers.

Pluck any infected foliage and treat with a fungicide to stop leaf spots in their tracks. Make sure you start watering from beneath to discourage future leaf spot disease.

Rust. Like leaf spot, rust is often no big deal if caught early. Rust fungus will appear as yellow patches on the top side of the leaf, with corresponding orange-brown spores on the underside. Wet or humid conditions also encourage rust, so promote air flow when you apply a fungicide or you’ll risk the rust returning.

Fungal rot. Both crown rot and stem rot end up causing the collapse of lily of the valley plants. Stem rot will cause leaves to develop yellow or grey specks that later expand into brown sunken spots. From there, the fungus spreads to the crown and destroys it. In crown rot, the fungal pathogen starts at the crown, causing leaves to emerge discolored and the entire plant to collapse in a few days.

Both are practically incurable. You’re best to dig out infected plants and toss them to protect any plants that are still unaffected.

Southern blight. Southern blight can be devastating to growers of a variety of crops, since Sclerotium rolfsii isn’t very picky about its victims. If you see tan or yellow ball-like structures on the base of your lily of the valley and the plants are wilting or dying, remove them right away, as well as the soil around the plant, and sterilize your tools thoroughly with bleach. You may be able to protect uninfected plants with a protectant fungicide.

The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Lily-of-the-Valley is a cultivated and naturalized low growing plant with an erect flowering stem.

The leaves are basal on a single stalk from the root. The stalk can be 3 to 8 inches long with a sheath at the base. Leaf blades rise from the sheath and usually number 2 but 3 are known. They are held erect, but bending backward slightly, the blade oblong to widely elliptic, without hair or teeth on the margins and remain green all summer. The mid-rib forms a keel causing a slight “V” shape to the blade. Secondary veins are all parallel to the mid-rib. Tips are pointed, 8 to 16 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide. Most leaves will be around 8 inches long and 1 to 3 wide.

The inflorescence is a upright scape (a flowering stem rising directly from the root) of 5 to 15 stalked flowers, all on one side of the scape. The scape is without leaves, but rises in the same sheath as the leaves. The scape is at least equal in height to the length of the lowest leaf.

The flowers are nodding, fragrant, with a small pointed bract at the base of each flower stalk, the bract shorter than the stalk. The perianth of the flower is a bell shape with 3 sepals and 3 petals that look the same (commonly called ‘tepals’) and as the flower opens the tips flare outward curving backward a little. The color is entirely white including the midrib of the tepal. There are 6 stamens, not exserted beyond the tepals with yellow colored anthers and white filaments. These rise from the perianth base and have a reddish spot of sap (not nectar) at their base, which attracts the bees for pollination. The filaments lean toward the whose stigma is either blunt or weakly 3-lobed. The ovary is of 3 sections.

Seed: Fertile flowers produce a orangish-red pulpy round berry-like fruit containing one or two yellow to light brown smooth seeds.

Toxicity and medicinal use – see notes at page bottom.

Habitat: Lily-of-the-Valley grows from slender branched rhizomes which allow it to spread forming dense colonies. It flowers in partial shade to full sun in well drained soils, but the ground should remain moist if in full sun. Late Summer dryness will cause the leaves to die back. Short and regular notches in the leaves are caused by the Lily-of-the-Valley Weevil – not very harmful to the plant but somewhat disfiguring. Organic fertilizer improves blooms and a dense bed should be renovated every 3 to 4 years with transplanting done in Autumn. The crowns need to be well below the surface and firmly packed.

Varieties: There are two accepted varieties: Var. majalis, as described here, which is of European origin and widely planted as an ornamental; and var. montana, which is considered a native North American variety found in the SE section of the United States. It is recognizable by a green mid-rib line on the tepals and the floral bract equal to or longer than the flower stalk. The horticultural industry has also derived varieties that have pink to rose flowers.

Names: The genus Convallaria is derived from the Latin word convallis for “valley.” The name is used exclusively for Lily-of-the-Valley plants. It is thought (see Stern, Ref.#37a) that it is a late medieval name taken from the Vulgate translation of the bible’s Song of Solomon. In any case, valleys are where it could be found in medieval times. The species name, majalis, means “May flowering”. The accepted author name of the plant classification – ‘L.’, refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. The family to which this species belongs is being re-assigned from the Lilaceae to the Ruscaceae as have species in the Maianthemum genus.

Comparisons: See the text under “varieties” above – plus: There is a plant called “False Lily-of-the-Valley” or “Canada Mayflower”, Maianthemum canadense which on close inspection will show that the flowers are on a raceme above the leaves, which are on the same stem, and the flowers do not nod. Photo shown below.

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