lily of the valley



lily of the valley defined in 1913 year

lily of the valley - Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis);
lily of the valley - The Lily of the Valley is a poet's flower. After the rose it shares with the violet and the cowslip the distinction of being prime favourite, indeed, there are even those who brook no rival to it, and whose feelings are voiced by Keats:

"No flower amid the garden fairer grows
Than the sweet lily of the lowly vale,
The Queen of Flowers."

All the charms of flowerhood seems to centre in it.

Its apparent shrinking from notice -

"That shy plant - the lily of the vale -
That loves the ground, and from the sun withholds
Her pensive beauty, from the breeze her sweets"
(Wordsworth.)

and yet, when found, the magic of its beauty and the enchantment of its scent give it an individuality so alluring that, according to the personification of the poetic imagination -

"We might believe...
That thou wert once a maiden, meek and good,
That pined away beneath her native wood
For very fear of her own loveliness,
And died of love she never would confess."
(Hartley Coleridge.)

Let us briefly run through the life-story of this "Naiad of the Vale." In the dryer parts of woods - ash woods in particular - one may find it forming quite extensive societies. In early spring days the creeping rhizome (underground stem) sends up quill-like shoots emerging from a scaly sheath. As they lengthen and uncoil they prove to consist of two leaves, one within another, rising directly from the rhizome. These have no stems, though their narrowing, curled foot-stalks almost look like such. Their plain, oval blades of somewhat concave surface slant a little backwards and catch all the rain possible, conducting it straight away through curling base, as through a spout, to the root.

At the back of the leaves, and rising also straight from the creeping rhizome, though lightly enclosed at the base in the same scaly sheath with them, is the flower stem. It is not quite so tall as they are, and is itself absolutely naked of leaves. In the earliest stage it bears at its summit a number of greenish buds, each on a very short stalk, the youngest at the tip. As the buds open they turn downwards and the flowers hang like a peal of fairy bells. "Ladder to Heaven" is a country name they have at this stage suggested. The Lily of the Valley should be in flower with the hawthorn, for careful experiment shows that both require exactly the same number of degrees of sun-warmth to bring them to maturity.

Sepals and petals alike are purest white, and together they form a plain bell whose edge turns back with six small scallops. The six little stamens are fastened inside near the top of the bell, and in the centre hangs the ovary with short, thick style and button stigma. The anthers open on to the inside of the bell, and are ready just a little before the stigma. The style is longer than the stamen filaments, so the stigma is below the anthers. There is no free honey in the little flowers, though a certain amount of sweet, juicy sap is stored in a tissue round the base of the ovary. But the intense fragrance leaves no need of nectar to advertise the flower. Legend says that it is the fragrance of the Lily of the Valley that draws the nightingale from hedge and bush and leads him to choose his mate in the recesses of the glade. It is said, too, to be almost unique among scents, only that of an odd Mexican cactus can be at all thought to resemble it. It is commonly reputed to be of the greatest value in nervous troubles and a most delightful antidote to headache; on the other hand, a certain French scientist has recently propounded the theory that the fragrance of many flowers, and this Lily in particular, is very injurious to the voice, and he would bar all the offering of bouquets to singers - and, indeed, have the flowers banished entirely from their presence.

The bees are great visitors. As they approach the mouth of the bell they are bound first to strike the projecting stigma and smear it with any pollen they may bring; but if the anticipated visit should fail the pollen is ultimately bound to fall on the edge of the stigma, which is roughened to retain it more easily, and so fertilisation is certain. The flowers pass into berries as the summer progresses, and September sees them hanging, in hue a most brilliant vermilion, each where a flower once was. "Our Lady's Tears," an old name for the plant and one still heard on the Continent, may be derived from these blood-red drops, or it may refer to the flowers in their purity of whiteness. Each berry contains vermilion flesh round a pale, hard seed. But though the plant produces fruit, its persistent underground stem does most of its propagation.

The Lily of the Valley belongs, as its name implies, to the family of the Lilies, forming a special genus all to itself among them. It is, perhaps, most nearly akin to the Solomon's Seal, but it carries no leaves on its flower stalk as the latter does.

Special virtue was once supposed to lie in water distilled from the scented flowers. It was known as Aqua aurea ("Golden Water"), and was deemed worthy to be kept in vessels of gold and silver. Coles (1657) tells us how it was prepared. "Take the flowers and steep them in New Wine for the space of a month; which being finished, take them out again and distill the Wine three times over in a Limbeck. This Wine is more precious than gold; for if any one that is troubled with Apoplexy drink thereof with six grains of Pepper and a little Lavander water they shall not need to fear it that moneth." Rembertus Dodonæus (circa 1560), pointed out how this water "doth strengthen the Memorie" and "comforteth the Harte," while much about the same time Joachimus Camerarius, a renowned physician of Nuremberg, gave a similar prescription quoted by Gerard - "That a Glasse being filled with the flowers of May Lillies and set in an Ant Hill with the mouth close stopped for a month's space, and then taken out, ye shall find a liquor in the glasse which being outwardly applied helps the gout very much." Also, it was greatly valued against infectious fevers.

There are various pretty and curious old names for this plant, such as "Lilly-Convally," and its variations "Convall Lilly," "Liriconfancy," or "Lilly-Confancy."

The Lily of the Valley is very local as a wild flower. In certain districts of England it is still to be found in abundance, but in many it is quite unknown. It no longer, alas! "groweth plentifully upon Hamstead heath four miles from London," as Gerard saw it in Queen Elizabeth's days, and tradition says that it vanished when the trees on the heath were cut down. But at the beginning of last century it was still very plentiful in the woods of Norwood. Legend accounts for the flower in Sussex by recounting how St. Leonard fought against a dragon in the woods there and only after many fierce and bloody encounters did the saint triumph. But wherever his blood fell there Lilies of the Valley sprang up in remembrance of the fight.

These lilies have recently figured largely in experiments relating to the forcing of plants by means of anaesthetics, such as chloroform and ether. It has been found that their winter buds, placed in the vapour of chloroform for a few hours and then planted, break into leaf and flower considerably before those not so treated. Moreover, in the experiments, the resulting plants were exceptionally fine.

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