Botanical: Convallaria majalis
Common: Lily of the Valley
General Characteristics: This perennial plant consists of 2 leaves that are nearly basal and a single raceme of flowers. The leaf bases are attached to a short basal stalk with several sheaths. The raceme of flowers is shorter than leaves (about 6" tall) and tends to nod at its apex; there are about 6-14 flowers per raceme. The flowers usually nod downward along one side of the raceme from slender pedicels about ½" long. Both the central stalk and pedicels of the raceme are green and hairless. Each flower has a bell-shaped white corolla up to 1/3" long and across; along the outer rim of this corolla are 6 short lobes that curve outward. Within the corolla, there are 6 stamens with short filaments and a single style with a tripartite stigma. The ovary has 3 cells. The flowers are quite fragrant. Fertile flowers develop into red berries up to 1/3" across that are globoid in shape. The interior of each berry is juicy and contains several seeds. In North America, most flowers fail to produce berries. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous. Dense colonies of vegetative plants are produced from the rhizomes; these colonies tend to exclude other species of plants.
Noteworthy Characteristics: In addition to its cultivation in gardens, Lily-of-the-Valley has economic significance in the perfume and pharmaceutical industries. For the latter, it has been used as a source of heart medication. Identification of this species is easy during the blooming period because of its distinctive racemes of flowers.
Lily-of-the-Valley has escaped from cultivation primarily in NE Illinois, where it is uncommon in natural areas. This species was introduced to the United States from Europe as a horticultural plant; it is often grown in gardens because of the attractive foliage and flowers. According to some authorities, there is a native form of Lily-of-the-Valley in the region of the Appalachian mountains, although it cultivated less often than the European form. In the mid-west, habitats include an upland area of a tamarack bog, rich deciduous woodlands, cemetery prairies, oak savannas near cemetery prairies, and former homestead sites. At some of these habitats, Lily-of-the-Valley was deliberately introduced and has persisted for several decades, notwithstanding long neglect.