Convallaria majalis falls into various phylogenetic categories, and is classified in each of these groupings for specific reasons, as described below. Note that the specificity of the grouping starts with most general and ends with most specific. If you're looking for more information on how organisms are classified from an evolutionary perspective, check out this simplified, but excellent resource.

Domain: Eukarya
Eukarya, or the eukaryotes are organisms that can be most easily described as having membrane-bound organelles and multiple linear strands of DNA. Other members of the Eukarya include protists, animal and fungi. Check out some the diversity in some of these organisms at MultipleOrganisms! Look below to see how Domain Eukarya breaks down further, then keep reading to find out why.

  Created by Hayley Powers, 2013.
      Hayley Powers, 2013.

Kingdom: Virdieplantae
Of course Convallaria majalis falls into Kingdom Virdieplantae, or the land plants. Plants are usually characterized by autotrophic multi-cellular organisms that share a freshwater algal ancestor. They are autotrophic because they produce their own food through the many steps of photosynthesis. All land plants also exhibit the interesting process of alteration of generations.  Below is how Kingdom Virdieplante breaks down into order and then even further into family. This will be more clear as we move further right into the phylogenetic tree.

Notice that both of the trees are sorted by not just morphology, molecular similarity, or overall similarity. The groups are sorted by a combination of all of these factors, making these trees a comprehensive and accurate look at what groups Convallaria majalis belongs to.

     Created by Hayley Powers, 2013.
       Hayley Powers, 2013.

Phylum: Anthophyta
The Phylum Anthophyta is commonly known as the Angiosperms, or the flowering and fruit bearing plants. As Lily of the Valley both flowers and produces small fruit, it can be put under this classification. Other members, including Lily of the Valley, have several other characteristics. True roots, stems and leaves are all present; the sporophyte generation is large and nutritionally dependent on the gametophyte; and flowers are present to serve as a mean for pollen dispersal. Other organisms with in the Anthophyta Phylum include Solanum tuberosum (potato), Hedera heliix (English Ivy) and Saccharum officinarum (Sugar Cane).

Class: Liliopsida
Liliopsida is a class that is synonymous with the term monocotyledon, which is usually shortened to monocot. Yes, Convallaria majalis is a monocot. This means that when the plant sprouts, there will only be one primary leaf (a cotyledon). Being a monocot also specifies other parts of the plant's structure as well: the veins of mature leaves will run parallel to one another, the vascular tissue within the stem is scattered and shows no pattern, and the flower petals occur in multiples of three. The monocot family is large and contains a variety of other fascinating plants, including Curcuma longa (a type of Saffron), Serenoa repens (Saw Palmetto), and Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit).

Order: Liliales
When phylogeny gets this specific, it becomes more complicated to define. With that being said, organisms in the Order Liliales tend to be found in either temperate or tropical reasons. Liliales are likely to be herbaceous and/or perennial. A few are low laying shrubs found in woody areas. Due to the diversity within this order, most of the members are related via genetic similarity, which was discovered through ever-improving molecular tools. This order also includes another type of Saffron, Crocus savitus.

Family: LiliaceaeCross-Section of Lily of the Valley. Hayley Powers, 2013.
The Liliaceae family name looks and sounds exactly like what you expect it to be - the Lily family! Many members of the Lily family are used for gardening since they are frequently noted for their brilliant scent and bright flowering parts. However, these plants can also be indentified by structures within their flowering parts. All members have three carpels, six stamens and three stigmas (Muenscher, 1966). Check out the cross section illustration at right to see if you can identify the different structures! If you can't, here's a little help. All of these structures play a crucial role in Convallaria majalis's life cycle. Comparison is the another great way to deeply understand these categories. Other members of the family include Allium sativum (Garlic) and Colchicum autumnale (Autumn Crocus).         

Hayley Powers, 2013.

Genus: Convallaria
We're almost there I promise! Convallaria is a very small genus. It is still debated if Convallaria majalis is the only member of this genus. Some organisms use to be thought of as sub-species, Convallaria keiskei, Convallaria montana, and Convallaria transcaucasica, are now being questioned and in some phylogenetic trees, accepted, as individual species. Once again, molecular testing has really brought this change upon the scientific community. We can also learn a lesson from these three Lily siblings. All three are commonly referred to as 'Lily of the Valley'. With the subtle molecular differences, the broader common name no longer accurately depicts the diversity and can be a source of confusion. The rule: when in doubt, use the scientific name.

Species: Convallaria majalis
Different parts of Convallaria majalis. Carl Axel Magnus Lindman, Wikimedia Commons, 1917.Most scientific names can tell some information about the organism before even researching it; if you're familiar with your Latin. Bet you wish you would've paid attention in high school now! Do not worry, I can help you out. 'Convallis' is the latin word for valley and 'maius' for the month of May. That leaves Convallaria majalis meaning something like 'valley May'. While those two words with out context mean very little, when looking at the plant, we can draw some conclusions. Valley could mean that this plant has a habitat in valleys... a correct conclusion! It can thrive in many temperate regions, and for this reason it is commonly found in Europe and North America, naturally in mountainous regions. What about May? Well one could conclude that the plant flowers some time in May. Once again, you would be correct. Flowers bloom in early to middle spring months, like May.
Back to the features of Convallaria majalis. The unique flower of this plant sets it apart from other members of the Liliaceae family. The flowers consist of six fused petals that hang upside down and resemble a bell or an upside down teacup. However, do not be deceived this beauty can kill via deadly cardiac glycosides.

Carl Axel Magnus Lindman, Wikimedia Commons, 1917.

Now that you know all about how Lily of the Valley is classified, where can one find its habitats?