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Apples in May?

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Named after its apple-blossom-like flower, the mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is a unique native forest plant with conspicuous lobed leaves. These plants are often found growing in large colonial groups in lightly shaded woodlands. The plants divide via root rhizomes, spreading across the forest floor. Mayapples produce small white flowers beginning in May that develop into fruit during the late summer (hence their name). All parts of the plant but the well-ripened fruit is toxic for humans and animals alike. Fruit can be eaten in small amounts and is sometimes made into jelly or jam. While there are folklore stories associated with the plant and some evidence of topical medicinal properties, there have been accounts of mayapple poisoning so be cautious with consuming the fruits.

Image: a colony of mayapple plants in the woods.

Image: Mayapple flower

Looking for mayapples? Mayapple prefers moist, shaded soils of hardwood forests. They do not like competition from other plants meaning you will often find them in open forests. They go dormant during the summer months and die back as the season progresses so spring into early summer is the best time to see these unique plants.

Image: Mayapples can spread across vast areas of the forest floor, creating a "carpet" of mayapples

These curious plants can also make great additions to shady home landscaping either as border plants or forest groundcover. Mayapples are easy to propagate from rhizomes and if planted in a suitable site, will quickly spread, soon filling your forest with many little “apples” come May.

Author: Raelin Kronenberg

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