Lily of the valley – the beautiful but poisonous national flower of Finland
Right after the early spring bloomers, is the lily of the valley’s time to shine. It starts out as a straw-like leaf sheath sprouting from the ground, which soon opens up into leaves. The characteristic tongue-like shape of the leaves has lend the species it´s Finnish name kielo (kieli, in Finnish, stands for tongue). Lilies of the valley bloom in May, producing little white flowers that have a strong and pleasant scent. The species has been chosen as the national flower of Finland, so feel free to kneel in front of it for a closer look. But do keep in mind that the lily of the valley is poisonous!
The lily of the valley – like many other plants – protects itself against herbivores with the help of chemical compounds. All parts of the species, including the orange-red berries, are poisonous. Only one species of beetle, the bright red Lilioceris merdigera, has specialised in feeding on lilies of the valley. The lily of the valley’s poisonous compounds affect the heart, which is why the plant was used for medicinal purposes in previous centuries. For example, the species has been used to treat heart disorders, in addition to which its flowers have been used to make sneezing powder.