The birth flower of May, the lily of the valley, features one of the most recognizable scents around.
For such tiny flowers, you’ll be surprised at how strongly they smell, and how far the scent carries, especially among a whole carpet of woodland blooms.
The lily of the valley has symbolism tied to traditionally feminine values, such as sweetness, chastity, purity, and motherhood.
Read on to find the deeper meaning behind these clusters of tiny bells, and the mystery they hold.
What does Lily of the Valley Mean?
Convallaria majalis, the scientific name for this plant, translates to “that which belongs to May”, but this flower carries many other names.
It’s often referred to as the May lily, Mary’s tears, May bells, Jacob’s ladder, glovewort, and Apollinaire.
Glovewort was the name used by people in pre-modern England, where it was used to relieve sore hands.
Apollinaris points to a myth where Apollo created the flower so that his nine nymphs could walk along the ground of Montparnasse without fear of damaging their feet, among a carpet of fragrance and color.
What do Lily of the Valley Flowers Represent?
The lily of the valley most often points to rebirth, sweetness, and humility.
The lily of the valley flower (see also Lily Flowers: Different Color Meaning and Symbolism) is thought to bring good luck, and this originates in the story of St Leonard. A 6th century French hermit, he wasn’t a soldier, though he did win a very important battle in which he was immortalized.
It was told that a monstrous dragon lived in a forest in Sussex, preying on cattle and men alike. St Leonard killed the dragon, but not before it injured him.
Where the saint’s blood landed, the lily of the valley sprung from the ground. The flower became a symbol of victory and good fortune, despite any “monstrous” problems that may appear.
What is the Cultural Significance behind the Lily of the Valley Flower?
For such a small flower, the lily of the valley carries a lot of cultural significance.
In Germanic mythology, it was the goddess Ostara’s flower, who was the Maiden goddess of spring, fertility, and potential. The hormone Estrogen is named after her.
In the Victorian era, the language of flowers stated that the flower meant happiness was on the horizon again.
In France, there is a long-held tradition of giving bouquets of lilies on 1st May. It dates back to May Day in 1560, when the king Charles IX was given one lily as a gift.
He continued this gesture and offered these flowers to the women in his court every May Day. It’s mostly fallen out of fashion, but it does occasionally reappear at special events.
In the Bible, the lily of the valley is mentioned frequently. The most well-known appearance is in the story of Adam and Eve, where it grew where Eve’s tears fell as she was banished.
The name Mary’s Tears refers to the Christian legend where Mary cried for her son at his crucifixion, and from those tears, the lily of the valley formed.
What does a Tattoo of a Lily of the Valley Mean?
A tattoo which includes a lily of the valley is a symbol of optimism, of hoping that the future will be full of good things and fresh opportunities.
These flowers are also associated with purity, chastity, and sweetness, which is why they’re sometimes used as a tribute to a loved one who embodies these values.
When Should You Give Someone a Lily of the Valley?
It’s a perfect plant to give on Mother’s Day, not just for the legends that surround this flower, but also for the traits associated with it, including motherhood, and sweetness, and renewal.
It’s a popular wedding flower, as the cut stem makes an instant display of cascading bells, which seems very appropriate! It also has a lovely scent, which is often sought after in wedding bouquets.
A lily of the valley is a good choice for someone who has a birthday in May, as they tend to be at their best in this month.
It’s worth noting, though, that these flowers are poisonous, and should be handled with care, and make sure the recipient knows this!