The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Canadian Mayflower (False Lily-of-the-Valley, Wild Lily-of-the-Valley)


Scientific Name
Maianthemum canadense Desf.


Plant Family
Lily (Lilaceae)

Garden Location
Historical - not extant


Prime Season
Late Spring -Early Summer - Late May into June



Canadian Mayflower is an erect native perennial forb growing 4 to 10 inches high - to about 6 or 7 inches in Minnesota. The stems are unbranched, appear to have a slight zig-zag and can have fine hair.

Leaves are oval to oblong with pointed tips. Sterile shoots have only one leaf, fertile shoots (stems) have 2 or 3. On fertile shoots the leaves are alternate on the stem, the lower leaf without a stalk and a base with a narrow sinus; the upper(s) with a very short (1 to 7mm) stalk and heart-shaped base. Leaf edges are entire, both surfaces can have fine surface hair.

The inflorescence is a raceme atop the stem with 12 to 25 flowers, two flowers at each raceme node.

Flowers: The small 1/4 to 3/8 inch long flowers are 4-parted, each on a short stalk. Sepals and petals combine into 4 short white distinct tepals, equal in size and which fold back when the flower opens. The ovary is white and globose with 2-lobed stigma. This is surrounded by four stamens attached to the tepal base; these have white filaments and yellow anthers. With the tepals folded back, you prominently see the reproductive parts.

The fruits develop as green berries that turn a mottled dull green-red to bright translucent red. Each berry contains 1 to 2 globose seeds. Plants can be started from the seeds of this genus but will not show until the 2nd year as they need a cold moist period followed by a warm moist period followed by another cold moist period.


Habitat: Canadian Mayflower grows from branching rhizomes by which the plant can vegetatively spread. It prefers rich loose moist soils and partial shade. High heat and dry soils to be avoided. It has a wide range of habitats, from moist to mesic open woods to swamp hummocks. It can be a dominant understory species in northern forests.

Names: Recent work by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG III classification system) has removed the 6-tepaled species of this genus from the Liliaceae family and placed them in the Ruscaceae family, leaving the 4-tepaled species in the Lilaceae. The genus name Maianthemum which is made up from two Greek words, Maios for 'May' and anthemon for 'blossom' together meaning "May flower". The species name, canadense refers to "of Canada" where it is found throughout most provinces.

An older scientific name is Unifolium canadense. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Desf.’ refers to René Louiche Desfontaines (1750-1833), French Botanist who had his own herbarium, wrote Flora Atlantica, became director of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, a founder of the Institut de France and was president of the Academy of Sciences. Two genera are named for him.

Comparisons: Canadian Mayflower may look like a short version of False Solomon's Seal, Maianthemum racemosum or of Starry False Solomon's Seal, Maianthemum stellatum, but in the former there are always more than two leaves and in the latter, besides more than two leaves, the flowers have a more pronounced star shape. Both of those comparison species have 6 tepals and 6 stamens.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.


Above: View of the short plant with its zig-zag stem and flowering raceme. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: 1st photo - flowers occur two per node, tepals reflex showing 4 stamens and the pistil of the ovary. 2nd photo - mature fruit - photo ©Matthew Wagner, Wisconsin Flora.

flowers Berries

Below: A view of the plant from above.

Plant from above

Below: 1st photo - stem detail, 2nd photo - leaf underside showing fine hair.

stem leaf underside


Notes: Canadian Mayflower is not indigenous to the Garden area. It was originally added by Martha Crone in 1935 with plants she sourced on the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota; she then added additional plants in 1945 (25 plants), 1947 and '49. It was listed on her 1951 plant census but has since died out and not been replanted. It is native to Minnesota and commonly found in most counties throughout the state including the metro area. It is distributed widely in North America, including almost all of Canada and in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River with Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa on the south, then east of the river, down into Tennessee, the Carolinas and Georgia.

There are three other species of Maianthemum found in Minnesota: M. racemosum, False Solomon's Seal; M. stellatum, Starry False Lily-of-the-Valley (Starry False Solomon's Seal); and M. trifolium, Three-leaf False Lily-of-the-Valley.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.