Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Thursday - May 17, 2012

From: Georgetown, KY
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: General Botany, Non-Natives, Plant Identification
Title: Difference between Convallaria majalis and Convallaria majuscula
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

How do you tell the difference in the native convallaria from the European species?

ANSWER:

Determing the difference between Convallaria majalis (European Lily-of-the-Valley) and Convallaria majuscula (American lily of the valley) is not a simple matter.  In fact, there is an ungoing dispute as to whether they are truly distinct species or whether C. majuscula is a subspecies or a variety of  C. majalis as you will see from the following paper:

Gandhi, K.N., J.L. Reveal, and J.L. Zarucchi. 2012. Nomenclatural and taxonomic analysis of Convallaria majalis, C. majuscula, and C. montana (Ruscaceae/Liliaceae). Phytoneuron 2012-17: 1–4. Published 17 February 2012.

In this paper you will see that, in addition to its authors, there are others who believe that the American Lily of the Valley is actually a garden escapee  of the European Lily of the Valley that was able to establish itself in the wild—the two are the same species but differ at the the subspecies or variety level.

Although the USDA Plants Database still considers C. majalis and C. majuscula as distinct species, ITIS (Integrated Taxonomic Information System) lists C. majuscula as the unaccepted synonym for C. majalis var. montana, American lily of the valley and C. majalis var. majalis as the accepted name for European lily of the valley.  In our Native Plant Database you will still find American Lily of the Valley listed under C. majuscula because our database follows that of the USDA Plants Database.  You won't find C. majalis in our database at all because it is not native to North America according to the USDA Plant Database.

In the paper listed above (Ghandhi et al.), they propose the following names Convallaria majalis subsp. majalis (European Lily of the Valley) and Convallaria majalis subsp. majuscula (American Lily of the Valley).  And, although the paper notes that there is an overlap in features (length of bracts and pedicels, leaf blade size and venation, number of flowers per raceme, etc.) used to distinguish the American and European species, it offers these differences:

"1.  Plants forming dense colonies; leaves green until frost, veins faint; raceme (excluding scape) about half the length of the leaves; bracts 4-10 mm long, shorter than the pedicels; seeds almost globose................subsp. majalis

1. Plants scattered or forming small groups; leaves yellowing in late summer, veins strong; raceme (excluding scape) much shorter than the leaves; bracts 8-20 mm long, usually as long or longer than pedicels; seeds oblate or lenticular...............subsp. majuscula"

Now, I hope you aren't going to ask what the difference is between naming a plant a subspecies or calling it a variety because that is another whole can of complicated worms.  See: 

Clement W. Hamilton and Sarah H. Reichard.  Current Practice in the Use of Subspecies, Variety, and Forma in the Classification of Wild Plants.  Taxon. Vol. 41, No. 3 (Aug., 1992), pp. 485-498.

 

More Non-Natives Questions

Identification of tree bought from a magazine ad
August 11, 2013 - I recently submitted the following question to Ask An Expert. They were unable to identify the plant. I hope you will be able to. Can you help me by either identifying this plant or advising me a...
view the full question and answer

Will frozen non-native agapanthus come back from freeze in Austin?
February 06, 2011 - I don't know if its a native plant, but my agapanthus got frozen in our recent cold weather. Will they come back; should I trim off the tops?
view the full question and answer

Problems with non-native Bradford pear in Austin
May 16, 2009 - Hi, I planted a Bradford Pear tree about five years ago, and half of it is not filling out with leaves very well. Then about a month I noticed leaves here or there curling brown and dying, and causin...
view the full question and answer

Non-native lambs ears wilting in heat from Fredericksburg TX
October 19, 2011 - 3 days ago I had professional landscaping done in an area with plants that tolerate heat & sun well. We planted 7 healthy, large lambs ear & mulched. Everything planted is doing well except the lambs ...
view the full question and answer

Non-native Coconut palms and Christmas palms in Merritt Island, FL
August 10, 2010 - Last winter the coconut and Christmas Palms all suffered. I have coconuts to plant, but can't get them to put forth a sprout, and eventually grow into a tree. I have put some in the ground half-way....
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.