Friday, May 23, 2008

The Scent of Spring: Lily-of-the-Valley

A previous owner of my house planted Lily-of-the-Valley around the house, and now is the time of year when this small plant gets noticed. With the windows open, the sharp sweet scent wafts in. Working outside I suddenly stop when I walk through the area.

Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis)
A small spreading plant that was introduced from Europe, with nodding bell-shaped white flowers with scalloped edges. Flowers are waxy tepals (fused petals and sepals).

I am always curious to know how flowers are pollinated and why they look (and smell) the way they do. The sweet scent of the Lily of the Valley attracts bees and flies, which find a reward of nectar up inside the tiny white bells. Bees also collect the pollen. Every now and then I see little red fruits, but it was interesting to find out they are usually sterile. Since it spreads by rhizomes, the plants are all clones.

I also found out that all parts of the plant are toxic (as I'm rubbing a flower I picked all over my face)
. Lily of the Valley is used by the perfume and pharmaceutical industries.

Convallaria comes from the Latin convallis meaning "a valley", and majalis means 'in May' referring to the flowers.

Other common names include Our Lady's tears (tears Mary shed at the cross turned to Lilies of the Valley), May Lily, May Bells, Lily Constancy, and Ladder-to-Heaven.

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