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Indian Apple Podophyllum peltatum

Phonetic Spelling
poh-doh-FY-lum pel-TAY-tum
This plant has high severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

The Mayapple is a native, herbaceous perennial wildflower that forms dense mats and is usually one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. It only has one to two leaves and one single flower per plant. The leaves are umbrella-like with deeply divided lobes that appear on an erect, elongated unbranched greenish stem.  From April to May, the showy, nodding, apple-blossom-like, white solitary flower appears in the axil of the leaves. The fruit is about the size of a small lemon, fleshy, and ripens to a golden yellow during the summer. The plant is dormant in the summer months, and the foliage disappears.  

The Mayapple is a native woodland plant that is found in most of eastern North America and as far south as the State of Texas.  It is typically found in colonies in open woodlands, shady fields, and along roadsides and riverbanks.

The genus name, Podophyllum, originates from the Greek words pous or podos which means foot, and phyllon which means leaf, and references the shape of the leaves in this species. The specific epithet, peltatum, refers to the peltate leaves or shield-shaped. The common name, Mayapple, references its May blooming time and its apple-like blossom flower. This plant is a member of the Berberidaceae or Barberry family.

The Mayapple prefers partial to full shade and grows best in moist, humus-rich, acidic, sandy to loamy soils. It is drought-tolerant in forests only and is deer and rabbit tolerant. The flowers attract pollinators such as bumblebees and other long-tongued bees. The Mayapple colonizes by rhizomes. It may be propagated by division or seeds. The plant is best divided in the fall. The seedlings may take several years to mature. 

Each plant has a solitary nodding, white flower, and hangs in an axil between the plant's two leaves. The sepals are shed as the flower opens, revealing 6 to 9 waxy petals and 12 to 18 stamens with bright yellow anthers.  Interestingly, the plants having only one umbrella-like leaf will not flower.

All parts of this plant are highly poisonous except for its ripened fruit. The Mayapple contains the toxin known as podophyllotoxin, and it is harmful if ingested. Protective gloves should be worn while handling any part of this plant because of the potential for severe contact dermatitis.

This native wildflower is best used for naturalizing in a woodland or native garden. They are often difficult to grow in the home landscape and will leave an open gap in the garden as it becomes dormant in the summer months. 

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Spring     Foliage:  Spring      Fruits:  Summer

Quick ID Hints:

  • native wildflower, herbaceous perennial, grows 1 to 1.5 feet tall, and 0.75 to 1 foot wide
  • one to two-leafed plant with an erect stem
  • deeply divided, palmately-lobed, umbrella-like, pale green leaves that measure up to 12 inches in diameter
  • single, nodding, waxy, 6 to 9-petaled white flower measuring 3 inches in diameter
  • flowers often hidden by the leaves
  • fleshy, greenish mayapple that ripens to an edible golden fruit

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The Mayapple has no serious insect or disease problems. Yellow or orange fungal rust may infect the leaves.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Shaded Slope
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Wagon Wheels'
'Wagon Wheels'
Tags:
#showy flowers#poisonous#drought tolerant#edible plant#perennials#white flowers#native perennials#shade garden#rabbit resistant#showy fruits#NC native#deer resistant#herbaceous perennials#edible fruits#spring interest#acidic soils tolerant#wildflower garden#naturalized area#food source summer#food source spring#food source nectar#food source pollen#food source soft mast fruit#FACU Piedmont Mountains#Coastal FACU#partial shade tolerant#food source flowers#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses#Audubon#contact dermatitis#landscape plant sleuths course#wildflower
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Wagon Wheels'
'Wagon Wheels'
Tags:
#showy flowers#poisonous#drought tolerant#edible plant#perennials#white flowers#native perennials#shade garden#rabbit resistant#showy fruits#NC native#deer resistant#herbaceous perennials#edible fruits#spring interest#acidic soils tolerant#wildflower garden#naturalized area#food source summer#food source spring#food source nectar#food source pollen#food source soft mast fruit#FACU Piedmont Mountains#Coastal FACU#partial shade tolerant#food source flowers#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses#Audubon#contact dermatitis#landscape plant sleuths course#wildflower
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Podophyllum
    Species:
    peltatum
    Family:
    Berberidaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Native Americans used this plant for medicinal purposes.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    South East Canada to Central & Southeastern U.S.A
    Distribution:
    Canada: Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec; United States: AL, AR, CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MA, MD MI, MN, MS, MO, NE, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA, WV, and WI,
    Wildlife Value:
    The flowers provide food for various species of bees. The fruits are eaten by wildlife including squirrels and box turtles.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Edibility:
    EDIBLE PARTS: Ripe (yellow and soft) fruit is edible raw but in limited quantity. The fruits may be used to make jellies and preserves. The flavor is said to be bland and somewhat like an overripe melon. CAUTION: The roots, seeds, and leaves are poisonous. Do NOT eat. HARVEST TIME: Collect in August or September. Only collect fruit from areas you know have NOT been treated with pesticides. SAFE HANDLING PROCEDURE: Wash fruit thoroughly with warm water. Do not use dish detergent or any type of sanitizer. These products can leave a residue. The fruit has a lemon-like flavor and can be used to make jams, jellies, and marmalade.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 1 ft. 0 in. - 1 ft. 6 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 9 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Edible
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Native Plant
    Perennial
    Poisonous
    Wildflower
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    The pollinated flowers produce green oval-shaped berry-like fruits. The fruit ripens to a golden yellow in the late summer. They measure 1.5 to 2 inches long and are edible when ripened; however, the tan seeds are inedible.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Solitary
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Shape:
    Cup
    Flower Petals:
    7 - 20 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The solitary nodding white flower blooms in the spring from April to May. Each bloom is 2 to 3 inches wide and has 6 light green sepals and 6 to 9 waxy, white petals. There are 12 to 18 stamens with white filaments and yellow anthers. The sepals are shed as the flower opens. The flowers are showy, but they are hard to see under the leaves and are short-lived from 2 to 3 weeks. The flowers are scented, but it is described as pleasant to odorous.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Orbicular
    Peltate
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Lobed
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are folded as the stem elongates in the spring. When the stem nearly reaches 12 to 18 inches tall, the leaves will unfold and become umbrella-like. The leaves are smooth, pale green, orbicular, fully peltate, and deeply divided into 6 to 9 palmate lobes. The margins are coarsely dentate and often cleft at the tip. There are only 1 to 2 leaves per stem. Each leaf measures nearly 12 inches long and equally as wide and is attached to the stalk near the middle of the leaf. The plant flowers if it has more than one leaf. Nonflowering plants have a single umbrella-like leaf at the top of the stem. The leaves decline and go dormant before fall. The petiole is 3 to 6 inches long, light green, and smooth.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Cross Section:
    Round
    Stem Form:
    Straight
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are erect and grow from underground rhizomes. They are light green to reddish green, smooth, terete, unbranched, and measure 12 to 18 inches tall.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Small Mammals
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Rabbits
    Problems:
    Contact Dermatitis
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    High
    Poison Symptoms:
    The unripe fruit, roots, stems, seeds, and leaves cause salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, excitement, headache, fever, lethargy, panting, and coma (rare). Contact with leaves or roots causes severe redness, irritation, and skin ulcers, especially to the eyes.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Podophyllin
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    Yes
    Poison Part:
    Leaves
    Roots
    Seeds
    Stems