Lily-of-the-valley is a dependable perennial groundcover. This familiar, well-loved plant has many virtues. Not only does it thrive in the shade and need virtually no attention, but also it spreads readily. Its fragrant flowers continue to delight year after year. These hardy woodland plants may look delicate, but they are tough and withstand considerable neglect. Their leaves and red berries are poisonous.
Size: Lily-of-the-valley plants grow 6 to 8-inches tall from "pips" which are bulblike fleshy underground stems called rhizomes. For this reason lilies-of-the-valley are often grouped with bulbs in reference books. Clumps of lily-of-the-valley will spread as far and wide as permitted.
Foliage: Lily-of-the-valley leaves are deep green. There are two to a plant, rising from the base of the plant to 8 inches in height. They are from 1 to 3 inches wide. Late in the summer lily-of-the-valley foliage begins to look blotchy and browned. It becomes increasingly unattractive, dying back completely by fall. The cultivar `Aureo-variegata' has yellow-striped leaves. Another, 'Striata,' has white stripes. Lily-of-the-valley leaves are poisonous.
Flowers: Fragrant, waxy, bell-shaped white flowers bloom along upright 7 or 8-inch stems when lily-of-the-valley plants are 3 years old. The nodding, waxy blossoms are 3/8-inch wide, and may be white or pink. They bloom in the shelter of the wide leaves, partially obscured by them. Signaled by their heavy fragrance, they appear in early May to mid-June for a week or two. Small orange berries, about 1/4 inch sometimes appears in the fall. They are spare and not very ornamental. They are, however, poisonous.
Lily of the Valley Choices
Some varieties include:
`Flora Plena' with double white flowers;
`Rosea,' with purplish-pink flowers; and
`Striata', with striking white-striped leaves.
A form from Japan (Convallaria keiskei) is similar but shorter. A native lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria montana) that has longer, wider leaves can be observed in the wild in the Appalachians.
Never dig wild flowers for transplant to the home landscape! Transplanting them from the wild may be against the law and usually their survival rate is low because the habitat conditions are different.