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Lilies of the valley are the traditional flower for the month of May. This tradition began in the 1560s when King Charles IX of France was given a stem of lily of the valley as a May Day gift. The flower has since been said to bring good luck.
Blooming in May, the lily of the valley has a slender stem of white bell shaped flowers emerging from one or two broad pointed leaves. It is not actually a lily, but rather a member of the asparagus family.
Lilies of the valley have long represented purity and humility. People born in the month of May are also said to exhibit these qualities. This makes lily of the valley a thoughtful birthday gift for those with May birthdays.
Lilies of the valley are popular in bouquets for spring brides thanks to their pure color and resemblance to wedding bells. They are also a traditional May Day gift as they are in bloom in mid spring. Called fete de muguet in France, it became a common practice to present a lady with lilies of the valley on May the first as a sign of affection.
Because this flower is associated with rebirth and renewal, it has been popular in Christian traditions. In 1881 the gospel hymn The Lily of the Valley was written by Charles Fry. Comparing Jesus to the pure white flower, it is still found in many hymnals to this day.
An alternative name for lily of the valley is lady’s tears. The legend was that these pure white flowers sprung up when Mary was crying following the crucifixion of her son. Another story held that the flower sprouted when Eve was crying as she left the Garden of Eden.
Lilies of the valley have a sweet fragrance that scents the home and garden when they are in bloom. In fact, it has been popular in perfumes for nearly two hundred years. You may see the French name, muguet, on labels.
When planted in the garden, lily of the valley pips will naturalize, or spread, if left undisturbed. They provide three seasons of interest as in autumn the stalks may produce vibrant red-orange berries. These are decorative, not edible, and can upset the stomachs of curious pets.
A popular old English children’s song, sung in round, goes:
White coral bells, upon a slender stalk
Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk.
Oh don’t you wish that you could hear them ring?
That will happen only when the fairies sing.
You can hear this lovely melody sung in round here:
“White Coral Bells”
Lilies of the valley have many ancient symbolic associations in addition to being beautiful and fragrant. This makes lily of the valley an especially meaningful choice for many gift giving occasions in spring.