Contact Us Host an Event 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 Plant Identification Questions

Vine with 5 pointed deep lobed leaves and small white flowers
June 21, 2015 - I recently happened upon a very peculiar vine. It has 5 pointed very deep lobed leaves, that are semi hairy on both the top and bottom with small white flowers that emerge from the same part of the st...
view the full question and answer

Need help identifying a plant with lupine-like leaves in La Grange Park, IL
May 20, 2010 - I encountered a plant on a level area just above a creek bed (moist soil, sun to partial sun) at one of the three largest grasslands in Illinois. The specific site looked like it may have been a burn ...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification
July 10, 2014 - I am trying to identify a wildflower that has popped up after a big rain. It is under a foot tall---blooms a yellow bloom in the evenings. It has long narrow leaves sort of like a rosemary. It grows f...
view the full question and answer

Flower with spike of yellow flowers with hairy purple filaments
July 03, 2012 - Fuzzy purple stamens! I can't find this plant identified anywhere. Blooms abt 1" or a little more across. 5 yellow petals, 5 sepals, & 5 stamens with yellow anthers, & the filaments are covered wi...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification, possibly Datura wrightii
August 25, 2010 - I have a plant in my back yard, it had big white trumpet flowers, and now it has huge green pods. Doesn't smell very nice. Could you tell me what it is?
view the full question and answer

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