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Known for its bell-shaped white blooms, lily-of-the-valley is a classic spring flower with glossy leaves and small orange-red berries. Let’s take a look at why this delicate flower is a favorite of royal brides, what it signifies and how it’s used.
About the Lily-of-the-Valley
Known by the botanical name Convallaria majalis, lily-of-the-valley is a fragrant woodland flower in the Asparagaceae family. It’s native to Europe, North America, and some parts of Asia with cool climates. Usually blooming in spring to early summer, these flowers are cultivated in many temperate regions of the world, but aren’t able to survive hot weather.
All varieties of lily-of-the-valley have white flowers, except the rosea which has a rosy pink hue. These petite, bell-shaped blooms can be seen in clusters hanging down around the stems, with six to twelve flowers on each. The plant spreads by means of rhizomes that grow horizontally below the ground. Unfortunately, lily-of-the-valley is regarded as invasive in some parts of North America due to its roots that can crowd out native plants.
- Interesting Fact: The lily-of-the-valley isn’t a true lily as it belongs to the asparagus family. Also, don’t underestimate these petite flowers! Even though they’re adorable and sweet-smelling, they contain cardiac glycosides that are poisonous when ingested. This fact was popularized in the famous TV series, Breaking Bad, where lily-of-the-valley was involved in a major plot point.
Meaning and Symbolism of Lily-of-the-Valley
The lily-of-the-valley has gained various meanings, some related to its shape while others derive from various beliefs and superstitions. Here are some of them:
- Return of Happiness – The flower is said to bring luck in happiness and love, making it a favorite for weddings. In French, it’s regarded as porte-bonheur or a charm to attract happiness.
You can create a statement posy by combining lily-of-the-valley with other symbolic flowers such as daffodil that represents new beginnings.
- A Symbol of Good Luck and Protection – Some believe that the flower’s bell shape can call the good spirits and ward off evil. In some cultures, it’s given to wish someone luck and prosperity. According to Greek myth, Apollo had lily-of-the-valley grow in the woods, which protected the feet of his muses.
- The lily-of-the-valley also means sweetness, purity of heart, trustworthiness, and humility.
- Lily-of-the-valley is commonly seen in white, making them a perfect representation of modesty, chastity, and purity.
Lily-of-the-valley Cultural Symbolism
Lily-of-the-valley holds major significance around the world, with different cultures having various interpretations for it. Here are some of them:
- In old Germanic custom, the lily-of-the-valley was regarded as the flower of Ostara, the Norse goddess of spring and dawn.
- In France, the flower is the highlight of the May Day, a celebration of the return of spring. No wonder the botanical name of lily-of-the-valley, Convallaria majalis, is derived from the Latin terms for valley and belonging to May. It’s also called May Lily or May Bells.
- In Britain, the lily-of-the-valley is worn during the Furry Dance, which is commonly held in Helston, Cornwall, to celebrate the arrival of spring and summer.
- In Christianity, it’s associated with Pentecost, a festival commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Also, it’s called Our Lady’s Tears in reference to Mary’s tears at the death of her son, which turned into lilies-of-the-valley.
- In Finland and Yugoslavia, lily-of-the-valley is regarded as their national flower. It also appears in the coat of arms of various states and countries.
Uses of Lily-of-the-Valley throughout History
Over the centuries, the flower has been used as the common source of essential oils for perfumes and cosmetics, as well as a medicine.
In Magic and Superstitions
Many believe in the magical properties of the flower. Some people plant lily-of-the-valley near their homes, while others add them to bathwater in hopes of deepening one’s spiritual connection and lifting spirits. In some rituals, the flowers are used to cleanse one’s energy and improve mental clarity.
Did you know that the flower was used during World War I against gas poisoning? Some even utilized the plant for treating skin burns and epilepsy. According to The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of Magical Plants, lily-of-the-valley can be an aid for irregular heartbeats and many other heart disorders. In addition, a tonic made from these blooms can relieve symptoms of urinary tract infection.
In Royal Weddings
The delicate appeal and symbolic meanings of these flowers has captured the hearts of royal brides. In fact, it has become somewhat of a royal tradition to include lily-of-the-valley in flower arrangements. Princess Diana has inspired many bridal looks, including a bouquet made of lilies-of-the-valley, along with gardenias and orchids.
Kate Middleton’s bridal bouquet was made almost entirely of lily-of-the-valley. The flowers were also spotted in Meghan Markle’s posy, which were handpicked by Prince Harry himself from their garden at Kensington Palace. Queen Victoria, Grace Kelly, as well as Princess Tatiana of Greece and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands also included the bloom in their wedding bouquets.
The lily-of-the-valley has a sweet scent, making it a popular ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics. In fact, the Diorissimo perfume by Dior in 1956 featured the scent of the flower. Lily-of-the-valley leaves have also been cultivated to produce green pigment too.
The Lily-of-the-Valley in Use Today
Since its leaves retain its color all summer long, many choose lily-of-the-valley for groundcovers, especially under trees where other flowers won’t grow. Also, it makes for good cut flowers often used in vase displays, sweetly scented bouquets, and even garlands.
Royal weddings have inspired modern-day brides, and lily-of-the-valley is often incorporated with other blooms to create stunning posies, flower arrangements, and centerpieces at weddings. In religious ceremonies, it’s often seen in communion and confirmation bouquets.
In addition to this, the month of May is associated with lily-of-the-valley. With its botanical name that means belonging to May, the bloom can be the perfect May bouquet for a May baby.
The lily-of-the-valley remains a classic choice in bridal bouquets due to their association with happiness, purity, sweetness, and chastity. With its simple beauty and elegant charm, it’s a flower that can be given on any occasion, including religious celebrations, festivals, and birthdays.