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This spring wildflower’s distinctive foliage is among the first to emerge in spring. In early to mid-April, thick cylinders of rough-textured leaves poke through winter detritus like stubby, green umbrellas set to open. When the stem has finally reached its full height, the palmated leaves open into 15-inch “umbrellas” that form dense mats in woodlands and thickets (phylum means “leaf” and peltatum means “shield”). The common name refers to the nodding, apple-blossom-like flowers that bloom in May, attracting native and bumble bees with their abundant pollen and fragrance. Soon after, fleshy fruits resembling small, golden lemons (it’s also known as wild lemon) become a tasty delicacy for eastern box turtles, small mammals (another common name is raccoon berry), and human jam makers. Mayapple goes dormant during summer months, which makes it a suitable companion plant for later-emerging perennials. This native of eastern and central North America is found in deciduous woodlands, along roadsides, and in shaded fields. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall and spreads by rhizomes to form colonies in rich, acidic, moist to wet soils with good drainage. It tolerates drought in shaded woodlands but prefers wetter soils. Mayapple thrives in full shade or part sun and goes dormant more quickly in sunnier locations. One-leaved plants typically wither in early summer, while plants with twin leaves persist longer into summer.

 

Mayapple puts much of its energy into its underground rhizomes, which are the primary means of producing new plants. One colony may have developed from a single seed, and large colonies may have over 1,000 shoots and be over 100 years old (Marion Blois Lobstein, www.vnps.org, Prince William Wildflower Society). The plant isn’t as efficient when it comes to sexual reproduction. Stems with one leaf will not produce a flower; however, stems with two or more leaves form a flower bud that eventually opens into a two-inch, white to pink flower that lacks nectar but offers a hefty pollen reward. The lovely flower is especially attractive to queen bumble bees that are gathering food for rearing workers, and the waxy petals are the perfect place for the white slantline moth (Tetracis cachexiata) to hide in plain sight. Successful pollination is not high in mayapple flowers, and fruit-set rates are often low for individual colonies. Immature fruits are poisonous, which means only fully ripened berries are available for consumption. When fruits do make it to maturity in August, eastern box turtles and perhaps mice, squirrels, raccoons, and grackles serve as the primary seed dispersers. The easiest way to propagate mayflower is by dividing the roots in fall while the plant is dormant. An alternate common name, wild mandrake, either refers to the root’s appearance to those of a European medicinal plant, mandrake, whose powers acquired mythical proportions during the Middle Ages or to the common use of both plants' roots as a purgative. 

 

Native habitats include mixed deciduous forests, shaded fields, riverbanks, and moist road banks. Use for naturalizing in woodlands or native gardens. Plant it with spring companion plants and late-emerging plants to fill in when mayapple goes dormant in summer. It doesn’t like competition from other plants and benefits from being given room to spread.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows 12-18” tall.

 

Prefers part to full shade. 

 

Prefers acidic, rich, moist to wet, sandy or loamy soils with good drainage. Tolerates occasionally wet conditions.

 

Solitary, cup-shaped, 2-3” flowers bloom 2-3 weeks from late April to May. They are usually white but sometimes pinkish to purplish. Each has 6 light-green sepals that shed early into blooming, 6-9 petals, 12-18 stamens sporting bright yellow anthers, and a pistil with a large stigma. Pollinated flowers produce 2” greenish, berry-like fruits that ripen to golden yellow in late summer.

 

When stem reaches 12-18”, leaves unfold with a width of 12-15”. Leaves are deeply divided into 6-9 lobes with coarsely toothed margins and a cleft at the tip. Nonflowering plants have a single leaf, while flowering plants have 2 or more leaves. Smooth, light-green petiole is 3-6” long. Leaves go dormant before fall.

 

Erect, light green to reddish-green stems grow from underground rhizomes.

 

ForWildlife Value:

Host plant for 7 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including variegated fritillary, black-patched clepsis moth, and 3 borer moths. The larvae of a sawfly, Aglaostigma quattuordecimpunctatum, feed on the foliage. Deer, rabbits, and other mammals avoid the toxic foliage and unripe fruit.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Native Americans used mayapple as a treatment for snake bites, warts, hemorrhoids, ulcers, headaches, rheumatism, whooping cough, as a purgative, and for worming purposes. Today, it’s used to treat genital warts and various forms of cancer, including testes, lung, Kaposi sarcoma, and some forms of leukemia. It’s also been used to treat syphilis (https://tinyurl.com/mszef3ak).

 

Various tribes ate the ripe fruits fresh or dried. The Meskwaki and Cherokee used the plant to kill potato bugs and to deter crows from eating newly planted corn seeds. It was also used to by some tribal members to commit suicide.

 

Warning: Only the ripe fruits are safe to eat, and large amounts may be cathartic. Unripe fruits, leaves, and roots are highly toxic and may be fatal if eaten. Gloves should be worn while handling the plant because severe contact dermatitis may occur.

Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum

$8.00Price
Excluding Sales Tax
Out of Stock
  • This plant is currently available as bare root and as a potted plant.

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