Convallaria majalis L.

Lily of the Valley

Convallaria majalis plant

Family - Liliaceae

Habit - Rhizomatous perennial forb, lacking odor of onion or garlic.

Stems - Aerial stems 10-20 cm long, unbranched, arched, with 2-3 bladeless sheaths below the foliage leaves, glabrous.

Leaves - 2-3 per node, oblong to elliptic, entire, 10-20 cm long, 4 cm broad, glabrous.

Convallaria majalis leafLeaf.

Inflorescence - Terminal raceme to 7cm long, with 4-16 flowers. Pedicels to 1 cm long, glabrous, with scarious bracts at base, these up to 8 mm long.

Convallaria majalis inflorescenceInflorescence.

Flowers - Pendent, with stalks 10-18 mm long, none replaced by bulblets. Perianth 6-9 mm long, bell-shaped, white, glabrous, the sepals and petals fused into a tube nearly to the tips, the 6 short lobes spreading to recurved. Stamens 6, fused to the base of the perianth tube. Anthers pale yellow, to 2 mm long, tapering to point at apex. Filaments short, 1.5 mm long, pinkish-purple at base. Ovary glabrous, superior, 3-locular, each with 1-3 ovules. Style 1, 2.2 mm long, the stigma shallowly 3-lobed.

Convallaria majalis flowersFlowers.

Fruit - Globose, red, fleshy, 8-10 mm in diameter.

Flowering - April - May.

Habitat - Old homesteads and cemeteries; cultivated and rarely escaping.

Origin - Native to Europe and possibly the Appalachians.

Lookalikes - None.

Other info. - This species has been found in a few scattered counties in Missouri, usually persisting from prior cultivation. It can form large colonies under favorable conditions but is generally not considered a problem species in our area. It is somewhat more common in states to our north and east. The plant is easily recognized by its inflorescences of small white bells, which are sweetly fragrant.

C. majalis has seen extensive use in traditional medicine, being used to treat a long litany of afflictions including heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, weak contractions in labor, epilepsy, edema, strokes and resulting paralysis, conjunctivitis, and leprosy. A flower and root tea was used to treat fevers, as a diuretic, sedative, and emetic. A root ointment was used to treat burns to prevent scarring. Clinical evidence of efficaciousness for any of these indications is lacking. The plant contains cardiac glycosides and is usually considered toxic.

Photographs taken in Lochapoka, AL., 4-16-05 (DETenaglia); also in Fremont, Newaygo County, MI, 5-21-2013 (SRTurner).