A common sight in the Pacific Northwest’s temperate rainforests, False Lily-of-the-Valley — at times — covers the forest floor in the warmer portion of Spring. It competes with ferns and English Ivy for space, coexisting peacefully with natives. It loses out when the invasive ivy creeps in.
I collected a specimen at Ecola State Park in the latter third of May, and at the time it was in full bloom. Delicate, fragrant white flowers rise up above the leaves. Eventually, they turn into teeny berries. Although it was abundant throughout the park, it seemed to have an affinity for sloped terrain.
Its leaves are distinct. They are very broad, with some of the largest pushing 20 centimeters. They are heart- to spade-shaped, with bold, rich green leaves with smooth margins. Pronounced viens create neat lines that run from base to tip that follow the curve of the leaves themselves. In most leaves, the center vien is more pronounced than the others.
You might have noticed the plant’s name is prefaced by the word false. “Real” Lily-of-the-Valley is native to Europe. Its flowers are similar, but the leaves are much skinnier. It is also a member of the Liliaceae family, just like False Lily-of-the-Valley.
Both plants have medicinal use cases, but I do not recommend you try either. Lily-of-the-Valley is toxic to pets and humans alike and should not be used for any medicinal purpose without a qualified doctor’s supervision — its therapaeutic use case is to strengthen the heartbeat, but too much will stop the heart.
False Lily-of-the-Valley was used by Native Americans for a variety of uses, including as a poultice for sore eyes and surface wounds. Its berries were also eaten, but Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast indicates that they were not well regarded as a food by the natives.
Pojar, J., MacKinnon, A., & Alaback, P. B. (1994). Revised Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Redmond, WA: Lone Pine Pub. Page 103.
Lily of the Valley. (n.d.). Retrieved July 01, 2017, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002882.htm
Magic and Medicine of Plants. (1986). Pleasantville, New York: Reader’s Digest.