Flowers, perhaps more than any other part of the natural world, are fascinating because of the many layers of meaning people have shrouded them in throughout history.
There is a whole sub-category of etiquette surrounding which flowers are appropriate to give at what times, and to whom. The unending rules surrounding something so simple as a flower can be dizzying.
May’s Birth Flower: The Lily of the Valley
Another aspect of flower lore concerns the designated flowers for each month of the year. May’s official flower is the lily of the valley, a lovely plant consisting of a stem covered in delicate little “bells” hanging downward. Their unique shape led them to be called “fairy bells” in Celtic cultures. It was believed that only fairies could hear them ring.
Lily of the Valley History and Folklore
The flower’s association with the month of May comes in part from a bit of traditional lore that nightingales won’t sing until the lily of the valley blooms each May.
The plant takes its name common from a passage in the Biblical Song of Solomon, which reads, “I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley.” It was probably named because it tends to grow in valleys.
This is not the flower’s only religious association. A popular nickname for lily of the valley is “Our Lady’s Tears.” The plant’s downcast posture reminds some of teardrops in the same way a weeping willow’s sweeping branches do. Those of a poetic mindset say the plant is a reminder of the Virgin Mary’s tears at the foot of the cross. Others say the tears were Eve’s, after being cast out of Eden.
If you were to eat a lily of the valley, the tears would likely be yours, because the plant is highly toxic. Like many toxins in nature, the lily of the valley also has medicinal properties, and extracts of the plant have been used to treat heart disease. It’s probably best to leave the treatment to the doctors, though, and just enjoy this beautiful flower while it lasts.
Note to pet owners: Lily of the Valley is poisonous to all pets if ingested. To read more, visit the Pet Poison Helpline here.
Hawthorne Is Another Official Flower of May
Hawthorn, also known as thornapple, refers to any one of several shrubs and trees in the rose family. Hawthorn thrives in temperate regions throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including parts of North America, Europe, and Asia.
Hawthorn trees can grow to heights of nearly 50 feet, though most are smaller, and feature thorny branches and small, berry-like fruits known as “haws.” The fruit is extremely tart and not usually eaten raw, but can be made into jams and jellies. The flowers are usually white or pink and feature five petals.
Herbalists have long used the plant to aid in digestion, sedation, and to treat cardiovascular issues, and the modern medical establishment has taken note, researching the plant’s effectiveness at helping individuals with heart disease.
There is a great deal of folklore surrounding hawthorn. In pre-Christian Europe, it was used for magical rune inscriptions. In Britain, hawthorn is associated with faeries and was believed to mark the entrance to their world. In Serbia and Croatia, people once believed stakes for killing vampires should be made from hawthorn.