What is Lily of the Valley?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

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.

Start preparing soil for and planting Lily of the Valley flowers in September.
Start preparing soil for and planting Lily of the Valley flowers in September.

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.

One story claims that Lily of the Valley first grew during Saint Leonard's battle with a dragon.
One story claims that Lily of the Valley first grew during Saint Leonard's battle with a dragon.

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.

Lily of the valley symbolizes happiness.
Lily of the valley symbolizes happiness.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


I absolutely love lily of the valley. I’ve always thought of the lily of the valley in a biblical sense, because it is a common biblical reference. Jesus is sometimes referred to as the lily of the valley among other things.

As such, I like to keep some of these beautiful flowers planted in my yard. Then when they come up, my children and I discuss their significance. You’d be surprised at what kind of an amazing teaching tool something like that can be.

It is much easier to see how lovely, beautiful and serene that flower is (like Christ) than to explain to them what an invisible entity they have never seen is like.


Lily of the Valley is also mentioned in an old gospel hymn. Referring to Jesus, the chorus goes, "He's the Lily of the Valley, He's the bright and morning star..."

Lilies are mentioned several times in the Bible, and they often refer to beauty. A verse in Songs of Solomon reads, "I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys," in reference to the beauty of the bride of Christ.

Jesus told his disciples not to worry about the future, and in so doing, he mentioned lilies. He said that if God so beautifully clothes the lilies, which today are here and tomorrow are thrown into the fire, why didn't they believe He would clothe them, who were much more important than flowers?


I have a very shady front yard, and I find that Lily of the Valley flourishes here, beneath the shade of the large oaks and pecan trees. The beautiful pure blooms remind me of cotton. They look so radiant against the green and brown background of dirt and trees.

I wish that these flowers lasted as long as some of my others. They tend to die back in the late summer or early fall - it’s hard to tell which is which around here, because we can have hot days in October.

Even though they don’t last all that long, I will keep them around as long as I can get them to grow here. Those little dots of purity seem like a touch of heaven in my garden.


If you want a beautiful, highly fragrant spring delight you can't go wrong with a Lilac and Lily of the Valley bouquet.

Both of these flowers bloom in early spring and are known for their strong fragrance. The small white blooms of the Lily of the Valley are a wonderful complement to the lavender Lilac blooms.

Some lilac blooms are also white, but all of mine are purple in color, and look so beautiful blended in with the white Lily of the Valley. They both have such a soft, clean fragrance that lift my spirits every time I catch a whiff of their scent.


If you live in an area where you have long, cold winters like I do, I am always looking for ways to have an early spring.

You can force Lily of the Valley pips to bloom in about 3-4 weeks if you plant them indoors in the winter time. This way you can have a fresh breath of spring inside, long before mother nature is ready outside.

Once they are done blooming indoors, you can wait until it is safe to plant them outside, and get a head start on an outdoors Lily of the Valley garden.


I look forward to these beautiful, fragrant flowers every spring. Even though they are a small plant and don't get very tall, if you have several of them planted together, you can't miss that sweet Lily of the Valley fragrance.

I have mine planted in a shady area growing with several kinds of ferns. They are easy to take care of and will also spread if given room.


Also referred to as May bells. Beautifully fragrant white flowers.

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