Mayapple is a native, erect perennial with an aerial stem rising from 1 to 1.5 feet with the large leaf on top which is the only thing you will usually see when viewing the plant.
Leaves: Plants produce a single one-leaved non-flowering shoot per year or a flowering shoot with two leaves. Leaves are deeply palmately arranged with 5 to 7 parts and each part can have two lobes with coarse teeth. These appear rubbery when young. Leaves and stalks are smooth, with hair only along the veins on the underside of the leaf - and stalks and leaves die down in mid-summer. The leaf of a non-flowering plant is a circular shield shape with the stalk attached right in the middle. Flowering plants with two leaves, have the leaves on short stalks at the top of the aerial stem with the stalk attached at the leaf margin making the leaf more kidney shaped. The two leaves are nearly opposite each other and are slightly unequal in size.
The inflorescence is a single nodding flower rising on a stalk from the axil of the two leaves and held beneath them.
Flowers: The flower is from 1 to 2 inches wide and may have 6 to 9 white to pinkish petals, and 6 pale green sepals which can detach from the flower early. Petals have rounded tips, the point where they are the widest, then narrowing to the base. The number stamens is twice the number of petals. These have yellow anthers, longitudinally attached and rise from the base of a large yellow-green cylindrical to ovoid ovary; overall, the flower has a waxy appearance.
Fruit: A small apple-like fruit forms in summer, green initially, turning yellow, that contains 30 to 50 small ovoid seeds. The seeds, leaves, rhizomes and unripe fruit are poisonous; the ripe apple is considered edible raw, considered sweet but slightly acid, better when cooked, but some find it slightly toxic. An allergic reaction from handling the rhizomes can occur in some people sensitive to the compound Podophyllin found in the roots.
Habitat: Mayapple grows from a rhizomatous root system consisting of many thick tubers fastened together with strong fleshy fibers. Once planted, it will multiply, but not invasively. Mayapple requires moist soil with partial sun, usually found in a woodland setting beneath a tall tree canopy. At Eloise Butler is found in the far corner of the Marsh and near the Martha Crone Shelter in the Woodland Garden. Propagation is best done by root division in the spring just before the roots start new growth.
Names: Both genus and species names refer to the leaf shape. The genus name, Podophyllum is derived from two Greek words - podos, meaning 'foot' and phyllon, meaning 'leaf' referring to the leaf structure with parts and lobes, somewhat resembling a foot. The species name, peltatum, refers to the leaf with its round shield-like shape. The author name for the plant classification, 'L.', is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: No other plant resembles this one. It is the only member of the genus in North America and the genus contains only one other species outside North America.
Above: The umbrella like appearance of the leaf of non-flowering plants is caused by the stalk of the leaf attaching at the center of the lobes. 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: Multiple stamens (2x the number of petals) surround a large ovary of the nodding flower head.
Below: 1st photo - The fruit forming as the petals fade. 2nd photo - The developing "apple". It turns yellow when ripe, but is still somewhat toxic to some people even then.
Below: 1st photo - The leaf pair of a flowering stem diverges at the top of the stem and the the stalk attaches, not in the center of the leaf, but at the leaf margin making the leaf more kidney shaped. The two leaves are nearly opposite each other and are slightly unequal in size. 2nd photo - The underside of the leaf is paler in color and has hair along the veins.
Notes: Mayapple is not indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler's records show that she obtained plants of this species on April 29, 1908 from Kelsey's Nursery in Salem, MA; again on Oct 7, 1916 from Horsford's Nursery in Charlotte Vermont. Martha Crone noted planting it in 1936. It is listed on her 1951 census of plants in the Garden. The plant is native to 11 counties south of Dakota and Carver that form the SE corner Minnesota - a setting of moist woods. It is found in the eastern half of North America. There are no other members of the genus in Minnesota or North America. Mayapple is in the same family (Berberidaceae) as Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla, both of which are in the Garden.
Medicinal Lore: The rhizome contains a resin, Podophyllum, which can be extracted when the root is dried. The procedure is tedious but the resulting drug was effective enough in its action on the liver and bowels that it was listed in the British Pharmacopoeia. The drug was given in an infusion, a decoction, or a tincture. Both Hutchins (Ref. #12) and Grieve (Ref. #7) have extensive texts.
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.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"