Rich with symbolic meaning, lily of the valley flowers crop up in art, literature, religious traditions, and springtime celebrations. With their delicate blossoms, lilies of the valley are a perfect choice for celebrating weddings and May birthdays and for saying goodbye to loved ones. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Lily of the Valley flower meaning, their history and origins, uses and benefits, and cultural significance around the world today.
- Lily of the Valley Flower Meaning – The Essentials
- About Lily of the Valley Flowers
- The Cultural Significance of Lily of the Valley Flowers
- Modern Meaning and Symbolism of Lily of the Valley Flower Colors
- Lily of the Valley in Myth, Folklore, and Traditions Around the World
- Suitable Gifting Occasions for Lily of the Valley Flowers
- Pretty Flowers and Strong Symbolism
- Lily of the Valley Flower FAQs
Lily of the Valley Flower Meaning – The Essentials
Lily of the valley flowers symbolizes good luck and joy. In addition to purity, chastity, humility, youth, and discretion. They also hold symbolic meanings culturally in European springtime celebrations and Christian traditions around the world.
About Lily of the Valley Flowers
Family, Genus, and Taxonomy
Additional common names include:
- May bells
- Our Lady’s tears
- Mary’s tears
- Muguet (France)
- Glovewort (England)
Lily of the valley flowers grow and spread from underground stems called rhizomes. In the spring, each stem or pip produces two leaves and a central raceme that contains five to fifteen pendulous, bell-shaped flowers in white, pink, or purple. They also produce red-colored berries.
History and Origins
Lily of the valley has been a part of culture since ancient times. They appear in ancient mythology and the Bible. Their exact origins and first discovery are unknown.
Some of the most popular types of Lily of the Valley grown at home include:
- Convallaria majalis
- Convallaria majalis var. rosea
- Convallaria majalis var. albomarginata
- Convallaria majalis var. albostriata
- Convallaria majalis var. crema da mint
- Convallaria majalis var. hardwick hall
- Convallaria majalis var. bordeaux
Convallaria majalis comes from the Latin words for “valley” and “May.” The common name “lily” comes from the plant’s original classification as a member of the lily, rather than the asparagus, plant family.
Lily of the valley is native to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia and has become an invasive species in North America.
When Are Lilies of the Valley in Season?
Lilies of the valley bloom in spring and summer.
Uses and Benefits of Lily of the Valley Flowers
Due to its extreme toxicity, the lily of the valley has no known medicinal or culinary uses.
Lily of the valley is primarily used for ornamental purposes. However, it’s also prized for its fragrance, making it popular in perfume production and a strong attractor of pollinators.
The Cultural Significance of Lily of the Valley Flowers
Depending on when and where you look in history, you can find references to lily of the valley flowers and their symbolic significance in cultures all around the world.
Modern Meaning and Symbolism of Lily of the Valley Flower Colors
Most commonly, the lily of the valley flower bloom in a crisp white, and all lily of the valley flowers take on the symbolism of white lilies of the valley.
The Convallaria majalis var. rosea species of lily of the valley, however, blossoms with flowers that blush in a delicate shade of light pink or light purple. These flowers have additional symbolic significance due to their different colors.
White Lily of the Valley Flower Meaning:
White lily of the valley flowers most importantly represent happiness and the return to joy. They also symbolize purity, sincerity, youth, humility, and discretion. Given their cultural significance around the world throughout history, white lily of the valley flowers have myriad additional symbolic meanings.
Pink Lily of the Valley Flower Meaning:
In flowers, pink can represent love, femininity, compassion, admiration, and understanding.
Purple Lily of the Valley Flower Meaning:
In addition to being a symbol for royalty and rarity, purple lily of the valley flowers also symbolizes passion, dignity, accomplishment, pride, and success.
Lily of the Valley in Myth, Folklore, and Traditions Around the World
Lily of the valley flowers has a rich tradition in mythology and folklore stories from around the world.
Ancient Greece and Rome
In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, it is said that the god, Apollo, created the lily of the valley to carpet the area of Montparnasse so that his nymphs would have a soft and sweetly scented groundcover to walk upon. This is where the lily of the valley gets one of its common names, Apollinaris.
In Serbia, Lily of the valley is called St. George’s Flower (Djurdjevak) and is picked on St. George’s feast day. The people then decorate their homes and adorn themselves with blossoms to bring good luck, fertility, and prosperity to their people, livestock, and crops.
May Day in France, Europe, and Other Parts of the Western World
In 1561, King Charles IX received lily of the valley flowers as a gift for good luck for May Day on May 1st. Each year following, he continued the tradition by gifting lily of the valley bouquets to the women in his court for good luck.
Today, the people of France still honor this tradition, and lily of the valley flowers are worn, used as decoration, and can be purchased from flower stalls everywhere to celebrate the coming of spring with good luck.
This tradition is also honored in other European countries. For example, lily of the valley is also used in celebrations of the Gaelic May Day festival, Beltane.
Lily of the Valley in the Victorian Language of Flowers
In the tradition of the Victorian language of flowers that was a highly popular form of communication and symbolism in literature and art created during the era, the lily of the valley represented sweetness, humility, and the tears of the Virgin Mary.
Lily of the Valley Flowers and Astrology
People who fall into the Gemini zodiac sign are adaptable, curious, and quick-witted. They are represented by two symbols: the twins and the planet Mercury. Geminis are gentle yet firm when they need to be, making them excellent communicators.
The adaptable yet gentle spirit of Gemini makes the lily of the valley a perfect flower for this group. Typically, this flower represents purity, sweetness, and innocence. It’s a small, bell-shaped bloom that can signify hope and new beginnings.
Lily of the Valley in Weddings
Legend says that the lily of the valley’s sweet fragrance helps to lure nightingale birds to their mates. This has made the blossom a popular choice for wedding bouquets, and many brides carry it as the fifth item of good luck in the “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” list.
In Holland, newlyweds plant lily of the valley in their gardens to bring good luck and help renew their love throughout the years.
Lily of the Valley in Spirituality, Religion, and Funerals
Lily of the valley has a prominent place in Christian traditions. The flower is mentioned several times in the Bible, most often in the Song of Solomon. It’s often associated with the second coming of Christ, as a representation of hope.
With its white, pendulous blossoms, lily of the valley flowers is often thought of as a symbol of tears. They represent the tears cried by Eve after being expelled from the Garden of Eden and Jacob’s tears.
Most commonly, the flowers represent the Virgin Mary’s tears shed at Christ’s crucifixion that was said to have sprouted lily of the valley flowers where they fell to the ground at the foot of the cross. This is where the common names Our Lady’s tears or Mary’s tears come from for lily of the valley flowers.
Due to their association with the month of May and Mary, May crowning ceremonies are often celebrated on May Day with the crowning of Marian statues with wreaths of lily of the valley.
Given the flower’s strong association with tears and mourning, they are also popularly incorporated in sympathy and funerary bouquets.
Lily of the Valley in Art and Literature
Rich with symbolic meaning, these delicate flowers appear frequently in art and literature. The folk impressionistic painter, Marc Chagall featured them in his 1916 painting, Lilies of the Valley. The flowers also carry heavy symbolic weight in the poem “The Lily of the Valley” by Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Lily of the Valley Flowers
From the Latin, Convallaria majalis, translates to “valley lily of May,” making the lily of the valley the official birth flower of May and for celebrating special occasions in the month of May
Pretty Flowers and Strong Symbolism
These delicate flowers and all their rich symbolic meaning can be easily enjoyed at home in a cottage garden or a May Day floral bouquet.
Lily of the Valley Flower FAQs
What do lily of the valley flowers smell like?
Lily of the valley flowers have a strong, sweet fragrance that’s often imitated in perfumes.
How poisonous are lily of the valley flowers?
All parts of lily of the valley flowers are highly poisonous to people and animals. They contain a high concentration of about 38 different cardiac glycosides that can cause irregular heartbeat and heart failure. If ingested, they can also cause gastrointestinal poisoning.
Additionally, handling lily of the valley with bare hands can cause skin irritation.
Why is it called lily of the valley?
Convallaria majalis was initially placed in the lily plant family and later moved to the asparagus family, which is why it’s referred to as a lily. In Latin, “convallis” means “valley” – hence the valley portion of the plant’s name.
Do lily of the valley flowers come back every year?
Lily of the valley flowers are perennials, meaning they return each year.
Are lily of the valley flowers easy to grow at home?
Lilies of the valley are easy to grow as long as they don’t receive too much sunlight.
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Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.