Lily of the Valley is a flowering plant popular in gardens for its appearance and its delicate scent. A perennial plant with a rhizome root system, it sends up shoots in spring and can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall. Each stem has two leaves and a flower stalk featuring white, bell-like blossoms that develop into tiny red berries. Lily of the Valley is native to temperate areas of Asia, Europe, and North America, where it grows naturally in woodland settings.
This plant is not difficult to grow, but the soil must be prepared a few weeks ahead of time. Choose an area with rich, moist soil, and in early September, stir the soil to a depth of 15 inches (38 cm), then add manure two or three weeks later. At the end of September, the plant crowns should be planted 6 inches (about 15 cm) apart, fairly deep, and preferably interspersed with leaf mold. If planting more than one row, the rows should be at least 9 inches (23 cm) apart. Lily of the Valley beds also require transplanting every three or four years.
There are a number of traditions and legends regarding the plant. One story tells that the flowers first grew during Saint Leonard's battle with a dragon; everywhere his blood spilled on the ground, a Lily of the Valley plant sprang up. Others refer to it as "Our Lady's Tears" and tell that the flowers first bloomed where Mary's tears hit the ground at the foot of the Cross.
Lily of the Valley is also associated with the month of May — the second part of its Latin name, Convallaria majalis, means "belonging to May" — and is typically sold on May Day in France. It is also the national flower of Finland. In the language of flowers, this plant symbolizes purity, humility, and a return to happiness. Its growth in the spring is said to herald the nightingale's yearly return to the forest and its mating season.
This plant traditionally has a number of medicinal applications, though it is also poisonous, particularly to children and pets. It has been used to treat cardiac and urinary tract disorders, as well as skin irritations.