May Lilies

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May Lilies beneath Salmonberries

May lily is an apt name for this little woodland groundcover, as the flowers reliably open in early May here in the lowlands of western Washington. It’s also called false lily-of-the-valley because of its resemblance to that common garden plant. In technical terms, it’s known as Maianthemum dilatatum.

Whatever you call them, May lilies are one of those plants I look forward to seeing in bloom each spring.

May lily blossoms

Look for May lilies in fairly moist woodlands, almost always in the shade. If you find one, you’ll likely find a large patch as they spread vigorously via their rhizomes.

The flowers are in a single cluster held above the leaves on a fairly stout stem. They’re somewhat fragrant, though I find I need to get my nose pretty close to the blossoms to notice any smell.

May lily blossoms detail

Unique among the lily family, May lily flowers have parts in fours — petals and stamens both — rather than in threes or sixes. Later in the year look for clusters of berries that eventually ripen from green to red. The berries are considered edible, but are bitter and not highly regarded. I leave them for the birds and other critters.

May Lilies

I was excited when I first found this patch of May lilies in our woods. It’s shaded by salmonberries and adjacent to a seasonal stream and wetland. In the five years I’ve been watching this patch it’s grown significantly, probably helped by my clearing some of the underbrush away to give it a bit more light.

We’ve transplanted several clumps from here to other places on our property closer to the house. In my experience, it transplants easily as long as I get enough of the native soil with it to avoid too much disturbance of the fairly shallow root system. Remember, only transplant plants from the wild if you own the land they’re growing on or you have explicit permission from the land owner.

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