Lily of the Valley

Convallaria majalis

Description & Overview

Lily of the Valley is an adaptable, shade-tolerant, spreading perennial that has historically been used as a groundcover in the difficult shade garden. We have discontinued producing and selling this plant due to its aggressive behavior in the landscape and invasive potential. All parts of the plant are poisonous, and care should be taken when handling any plant part. Also known as May Bells and Mary’s Tears.

Core Characteristics

Wisconsin Native: No – Introduced
Mature Height: 12 inches
Mature Spread: 12 inches
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Clumping, spreading
Light Requirements: Partial Shade to Full Shade
Site Requirements: Tolerant of many site conditions
Flower: White, nodding, bell-shaped, fragrant
Bloom Period: April
Foliage: Green
Fall Color: Insignificant
Fruit Notes: Orange-red berry, poisonous

Suggested Uses:

Lily of the Valley has been discontinued at Johnson’s Nursery due to its aggressive behavior and invasive potential. Historically the plant has been used for the dappled shade garden and has filled a role similar to Bishop’s Weed. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and will naturalize in many sites. All parts of the plant are poisonous, and it should not be sited near children’s play areas or where pet traffic is high.

Wildlife Value:

Lily of the Valley has no wildlife value in Wisconsin. The flowers may serve as an opportunistic source of nectar and pollen, but rarely have we experienced anything visit them in large numbers in spring.

Maintenance Tips:

Lily of the Valley requires little care but can be aggressive in the shade garden. It does not play well with others. Flowering may decline with age. If desired, you can divide the existing plants to encourage more blooms.

To remove the plant, we recommend using a glyphosate-based herbicide.


Aphids and spider mites may be problematic on Lily of the Valley during bad pest years. Treatment is not needed, however, as the plant is able to endure insect browsing.

Leaf Lore:

All parts of the plant are poisonous and should not be consumed.

Lily of the Valley is native to Europe and is planted for its fragrant flowers and adaptability in the shaded garden. However, it is also an aggressive spreader than can make new plantings difficult.

Like Bishop’s Weed, Lily of the Valley is useful for beds where you don’t want to perform maintenance. But as we’ve found, even with a full mat of the plant, you may still have to constantly battle Buckthorn seedlings and volunteers from local street trees. In the end, you may have an easier time keeping your beds organized without aggressive perennials.

Companion Plants:

Geranium, Hosta, Ferns, Pachysandra, and more are all excellent substitutes for Lily of the Valley. If you know how much moisture and light your site receives, we can recommend a number of beautiful, hardy replacements for your neglected shade beds.