Wild Lily-of-the-Valley – Liliales Liliaceae Maianthemum dilatatum

Identification & Description:
Wild Lily-of-the-Valley – “Canada Mayflower”

Lily of the Valley is a small plant that gives off a very nice smell. The tradition is: you go out and gather the Lilies of the Valley, enjoy the spring weather and get a little exercise. Then, when you have collected your Lilies of the Valley, you put them in a vase in your home to bring their perfume home.

The genus name is derived from the Latin maius, ‘May’, and anthemon, ‘flower’, referring to the flowering time of these plants (though northern plants may bloom much later). The species name, canadense, indicates that this species was first identified in Canada. It is called ‘wild lily-of-the-valley’ because its leaves resemble those of lily-of-the-valley, Convallaria majalis, a European species.

Although the berries are edible, they tend to be bitter and may induce diarrhea.

Plant Type: This is a herbaceous plant, it is a perennial which can reach 20cm in height (8inches).
Leaves: The leaves are alternate. Each leaf is entire. There are two leaves on the main stem in most cases. Another leaf emerges from the root on it’s own stem but is usually wilted by the time of flowering.
Flowers: The flowers have 4 Regular Parts. They are white. Blooms first appear in mid spring and continue into late spring. The tiny flowers are in a terminal cluster.
Fruit: Greenish or whitish speckled berries turning pink or red.
Habitat: Wooded Mountains.
Range: Mountainious region of the eastern United States into Canada.

It is a native of Europe, also widespread across much of our region, from Manitoba to southwestern N.W.T. and northeastern B.C., but in England it is very local as a wild flower. In certain districts it is to be found in abundance, but in many parts it is quite unknown. It is rare in Scotland and doubtfully native and only naturalized in Ireland. It grows mostly in the dryer parts of woods – especially ash woods – often forming extensive patches, and is by no means peculiar to valleys, though both the English and botanical names imply that it is so.

Culpepper reports that in his time these little Lilies grew plentifully on Hampstead Heath, but Green, writing about 100 years ago, tells us that ‘since the trees on Hampstead Heath, near London, have been destroyed, it has been but sparingly found there.’

Lily-of-the-Valley is fairly easy to cultivate, preferring well-drained, rich, sandy loam, in moist situations.

Plant towards the end of September. The ground for Lily-of-the-Valley should be thoroughly stirred to a depth of 15 inches, early in September, laying it up rough for a few weeks, then breaking it down and adding some rotten manure, or if that cannot be obtained, some kind of artificial manure must be used, but this is better applied later on, hoeing it in just as growth appears. Plant the crowns about 6 inches apart and work fine, rich soil, with some leaf mould if possible, in between. Leave at least 9 inches between the rows. Keep the crowns well below the surface and above all plant firmly.

In some soils the plants will last longer in the best form than in others, but should be transplanted about every fourth year and in light, porous soils it may be necessary to do so every third year. Periodic transplanting, deep culture and liberal feeding produce fine blooms. Autumn is the best time for remaking beds, which are best done in entirely fresh soil. Cut the roots from the old bed out into tufts 6 inches or 9 inches square, and divide into pieces 3 inches square. Replant the tufts the original 6 inches apart. It is best to prepare the entire beds before replanting. Replanted by October, the crowns will be well settled in by winter rains, and the quality of the spikes will show a marked difference in early spring.