LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY

Maianthemum majalis

(Formerly: Convallaria majalis)
Asparagus Family [Asparagaceae]  
Formerly in: Lily Family [Liliaceae, then in Convallariaceae]

Flowers:
month8May month8jun month8june

Berries: berryZpossible        berryZgreen berryZred  (highly poisonous)
berry8jul berry8july berry8aug berry8sep berry8sept berry8oct

status
statusZnative
 
flower
flower8white
 
morph
morph8actino
 
petals
petalsZ1
(6)
type
typeZbell
 
stem
stem8round
 
smell
smell8sweet smell8fragrant
sweet
toxicity
toxicityZmedium
 

9th July 2008, Limestone Pavement, Gait Barrows, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Growing down in the grykes where it is sheltered from any winds.


13th May 2016, in an ex-garden, Formby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
A fully native garden plant which carpets areas growing to 25cm high.


15th May 2008, Warton Crag, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
(Bluebells in top left corner). The leaves of Lily-of-the-Valley are said to resemble those of Ramsons, but un-like those, are exceedingly poisonous and do not smell of garlic. They stick up in pairs, curving-outwards in a V-shape, just two from each plant.


13th May 2016, in an ex-garden, Formby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The leaves, all basal, are like dagger blades, but floppy harmless ones.


19th May 2014, a garden, Langley, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
Bird's-eye view. Leaves broadest somewhere near the middle tapering to a 60° pointed at the end.


15th May 2008, Warton Crag, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
A single round narrow one-sided flowering stem (raceme) emerges from the centre with several white bell-shaped flowers hanging off near the top.


13th May 2016, in an ex-garden, Formby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Broadly spherical with six short curled-up pointed 'petals' the flowers hang off one side of the flowering stem.


15th May 2008, Warton Crag, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Each flower on a short drooping stalk with a flap where the stalk peels away from the stem. This flap later turns paperish and brown.


15th May 2008, Warton Crag, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
An insect has nibbled away at the bell allowing a peek at the insides.


19th May 2014, a garden, Langley, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
Drooping downwards near ground-level the insides of flowers are never normally visible by humans, unless you hold the flower upside down.


19th May 2014, a garden, Langley, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
A sneak pre-view of the innards, which has 6 pale-green anthers on what must be very short stamens plus a longer but stubby central white style to which the anthers are all inwardly directed.


13th May 2016, in an ex-garden, Formby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The anthers are arrow-shaped and split into 'two' roughly parallel to each other.


7th June 2014, Limestone Pavement, Gait Barrows, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The opaque white petals become thin and translucent as the flower goes to fruit.


7th June 2014, Limestone Pavement, Gait Barrows, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The flowers going to fruit.


9th July 2008, Limestone Pavement, Gait Barrows, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The berries are also poisonous, turning red from un-ripe green.


Some similarities to : Solomons Seal.

The leaves, flowers and berries of this plant are very poisonous. It prefers to grow on limestone, or on sand. It is sold as a garden flower, from where it may escape into the wild. The flowers have a sweet fragrance. Despite it not smelling of garlic, the leaves of this plant, which come before the flowers, have been mistaken for those of Ramsons and eaten, often with fatal consequences.

Now said to belong, not to the Lily Family, but to the Ruscaceae family, which has itself now been moved into the Asparagus Family.

A green dye can be extracted from the leaves of this plant.

The odorous compounds isolated from around the headspace of the flowers include Benzyl Alcohol (35 %), (Z)-3-hexen-1-ol (11 %), Citronellol (9.6 %), Geraniol (8.4%), (Z)-3-Hexenyl Acetate (7.8 %),Geranyl Acetate (3.3 %), Phenylacetonitrile (3.0 %), Farnesol (1.9 %), Citronellyl Acetate (1.1 %), Nerol (1.3 %), Geranial plus Benzyl Acetate (0.96 %), 2,3-DiDydroFarnesol (0.88 %), Phenylethyl Alcohol (0.78 %), Octanal (0.15 %), Nonanal (0.1 %), Decanal (0.07 %), Neral (0.02 %) and traces of several other compounds.

The green-grassy notes are provided by (Z)-3-hexenal (trace) and (E)-2-hexenal (0.18 %); the green-pea and galbanum-like notes by 2-isopropyl-3-methoxypyrazine (trace) and 2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine (trace) and the fruity raspberry notes by β-Ionone (trace).

The naturally occurring alkaloid (found in Cinchona species, such as the Quinine Tree) quinidine is used medicinally to counteract the irregular heartbeat caused by ingestion of parts of Lily-of-the-Valley plant. Quinidine is a cardiac depressant, and acts by controlling the cardiac rhythm. Sparteine, another naturally occurring alkaloid found Broom and in some other members of the Pera Family, acts similarly and is also used medicinally to treat heart arrhythmias and poisonings by cyanogenic glycosides. It acts by blocking the Na+ channel.

CARDENOLIDES

The plant also produces a valuable pharmaceutical drug, convallotoxin, a cardiotonic drug, a digitalin-like substance. Of all the naturally occurring cardiac glycosides, convallotoxin is the most potent. Because of this Lily-of-the-Valley is very poisonous, ingestion of parts of the plant will typically produce burning of the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, dilated pupils, slow and arrhythmic heartbeat, sometimes resulting in coma and death. The same toxins are present in other members of the Lily family, for instance Star-of-Bethlehem.

Convallotoxin resembles Digoxigenin which is found in Foxglove. Besides Convallotoxin, which is the main toxin representing 40% of the total cardiac glycosides in Lily-of-the-Valley, 37 other cardenolides (cardiac glycosides) have been isolated from Lily-of-the-Valley, amongst them Convallarin, Convallamarin and Convallamaronin, and which are used medicinally.

NON-PROTEINOGENIC AMINO ACIDS


Azetidine-2-carboxylic Acid is a non-proteinogenic amino acid (NPAA) meaning that it does not occur in natural proteins. It is the homologue of Proline, which is a natural amino acid found in proteins. Azetidine-2-carboxylic Acid occurs in Lily-of-the-Valley as a poison which seems to be devised to act as an analogue to Proline, and because of this can accidentally be incorporated into proteins in place of Proline, where it may disrupt the normal function of the protein. Azetidine-2-carboxylic Acid is therefore toxic. It occurs in the rhizomes and leaves of Lily-of-the-Valley, and also in some species of Solomons Seal. To a much lesser extent in Sugar Beet.

Proline, one of the natural 21 or 22 amino acids, is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that although we cannot live without it, humans do not need to consume food containing Proline since humans are able to synthesize it within their bodies. [Proline is only shown for comparison with Azetidine-2-carboxylic Acid and does not occur in Lily-of-the-Valley].


  Maianthemum majalis  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Asparagaceae  

Distribution
family8ruscaceae family8nolinoideae family8asparagus family8asparagaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Maianthemum
Maianthemum
(Lily-of-the-Valley)

LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY

Maianthemum majalis

(Formerly: Convallaria majalis)
Asparagus Family [Asparagaceae]  
Formerly in: Lily Family [Liliaceae, then in Convallariaceae]

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