May Flower Lore: Lily of the Valley and Hawthorn

Learn about the legends and folklore behind May's flower, the fragrant bell-shaped Lily of the Valley.

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

Spring flower lily of the valley. Lily of the valley. Ecological background Blooming lily of the valley green grass background in the sunlight.

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

Male Common nightingale bird
Male Common nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

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.

Hawthorn Is Another Official Flower of May

may flower hawthorn

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.

Farmers' Almanac - Itch
Jaime McLeod

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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Mikki

typo – eaten / not eater

The fruit is extremely tart and not usually eater raw, but can be made into jams and jellies.

Sarah Lorraine

These grow right outside of my bedroom window. With my windows open, I often catch their scent on the breeze and it’s perfect.

April Lippert

In another house that I owned, I had Pink ones! Yes, pink ones! I wish I had brought them with me!

Tracy

It is titled Mat Flower Lore… not Mayflower… two different things. In the body of the article, it says it’s the Lily of the Valley

Rose Kail

Muguet des bois

Kathy M

These are my very favorite flowers. Unfortunately, I live in AZ in the desert & they don’t grow here. Lived in Nebraska where they grew like crazy. Miss them so much.

Meg

Same here. Grew up in Illinois where they are plentiful. Not so in Colorado.

Donna Dareing

My favorite is yellow rose

Donna Dareing

My favorite flower is yellow rose

lela

lilies can kill your pets (cats and dogs) its one of the most poisonous plants to animals. this saddens me because my birth flower is lily of the valley. i love all kinds of lilies but i wont grow them out of respect for my animals.

Caroline

I love Lily of the Valley, their scent is so clean and unique, mine are in full bloom now!

Wendy Wetzel

Happy May Day ! I love these tiny flowers, they are so pretty 🙂

Kathy

My birth flower. I have always loved Lilies of the Valley. My grandmother had them around her house and now I do too.

Julie Hummel

I’ve always heard that the lily of the valley stood for the return of happiness. Such a happy little flower…I carried them in my wedding bouquet. 🙂

Elfi

In Germany, the flower is called “Maigloeckchen” which translates into May belles. I always thought that the name had more to do with the month it blooms in and the shape of the flowerettes. And no, I never found it in valleys but rather sunny spots in the forest.

Gabriele

It is May Bells

Carol

my favorite flower! my mom grew them in her garden!

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