Lily of the valley

May lily

Photo by Kaarina Heikkonen

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) was voted the national flower of Finland in 1967. The choice was successful in many ways, as the Finnish forest industry has also favoured the flower.

Clearing pastures and, later, felling operations have created plenty of bright and sunny forest edge area, which are advantageous to lily of the valley.

Lily of the valley does not demand much from its habitat, but it enjoys bright, dry and fairly young groves the best.

The lily-like appearance of the white flowers of the lily of the valley and its enchanting fragrance have made the flower particularly highly valued in Western culture.

Lily of the valley blooms at the turn of spring and summer, during the time nature awakens. The species’ scientific name, convallaria majalis, loosely translates to ‘May valley lily’, which refers to the perfect bride in the Bible’s Song of Songs and also the flower’s Scandinavian blooming time.

The Finnish name, ‘kielo’, refers to the tongue-like shape of the flower’s leaves, as the Finnish word for tongue is ‘kieli’. Lily of the valley is an ingredient in many floral perfume scents.

However, this beauty is also dangerous; the whole plant is poisonous. Eating the berries can prove fatal, but the poison has been used to make heart medicine. Lily of the valley is an important host plant to a bright red beetle, Lilioceris merdigera.