false lily of the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, lily-of-the-valley, snakeberry, Maianthemum bifolium ssp. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum bifolium var. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum kamtschaticum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest

False Lily of the Valley

False Lily of the Valley is one of my favorite native groundcovers.  Fabulous carpets of it grow along the trails to Botanical Beach + the Visitor Centre at Long Beach.

false lily of the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, lily-of-the-valley, snakeberry, Maianthemum bifolium ssp. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum bifolium var. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum kamtschaticum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

This summer, on a trip through Northern BC, I spotted a patch.  ‘Turns out my untrained eye was fooled by Wild Lily of the Valley.

Good grief!  Add in the ‘true’ Lily of the Valley & there are 3 plants to confuse! Let’s consider the similarities:

  • they’re all perennial…
  • spread by creeping rhizomes forming thick carpets…
  • display clusters of white flowers in spring…
  • long markings run the length of the leave from stem to tip…
  • live happily in moist, shady woods…

But consider differences:

false lily of the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, lily-of-the-valley, snakeberry, Maianthemum bifolium ssp. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum bifolium var. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum kamtschaticum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins
  • False Lily of the Valley is a common coastal groundcover around the Pacific Rim.
    1. The Wild cousin grows in Northeastern BC & across much of the boreal forest.
    2. The original Lily of the Valley is unrelated– native to Europe, but introduced to gardens across North America.

      false lily of the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, lily-of-the-valley, snakeberry, Maianthemum bifolium ssp. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum bifolium var. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum kamtschaticum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
      photo by SVSeekins
  • False Lily of the Valley, Maianthemum dilatatum,  has wider leaves (dilatatum means wide).   And heart-shaped.
    1. The Wild cousin, Maianthemum canadense, is also heart-shaped, but slightly more oblong.
    2. The European colonizer has oblong leaves – not heart-shaped at all.

      false lily of the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, lily-of-the-valley, snakeberry, Maianthemum bifolium ssp. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum bifolium var. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum kamtschaticum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
      photo by SVSeekins
  • False Lily of the Valley has berries that start out pale with red speckles, but the speckles multiply until the berry is quite dark.
    1. The Wild cousin reacts much the same way.
    2. I’ve never noticed speckles on the European berry. It’s more of an orangey red.

      false lily of the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, lily-of-the-valley, snakeberry, Maianthemum bifolium ssp. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum bifolium var. kamtschaticum, Maianthemum kamtschaticum, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
      photo by SVSeekins
  • False Lily of the Valley is used for several purposes by Coastal First Nations, especially the berries.
    1. The Interior First Nations haven’t mentioned eating the berries.
    2. The European Lily of the Valley, Convallaria majalis, is poisonous — don’t eat any of it!

Typically I stay away from  ‘poisonous’ plants, but this is an exception.  Visiting deer haven’t eaten our Convallaria majalis, so I let it grow.  I’d prefer to have the False Lily of the Valley in our garden, but because the locals eat it, I reckon the deer would too.

Bummer.

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2 thoughts on “False Lily of the Valley”

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