In April, Podophyllum peltatum rises from the ground, resembling a tightly-closed umbrella. As each stem lengthens to a foot tall or a bit taller, the leaves unfurl and the ‘umbrella’ opens. It sounds like a really interesting plant, doesn’t it?
Called mayapples because of their apple-blossom-like flowers that bloom in May, they are one of the most unique plants in my landscape. Each plant has just one or two leaves and presents only one flower – a small flower most often hidden by foliage. The distinctive foliage is what makes mayapples welcome in my garden.
Native to most of the Midwest and eastern United States, they grow in damp meadows and open woodlands. They prefer the company of their family and spread by rhizomes into large colonies.
Single-leaved plants are immature and unable to flower. Only plants with two leaves bloom. In the space where the stems of the leaves meet (the leaf axil) just one nodding, white flower offers pollen to pollinators.
A small, egg-shaped fruit develops when the flower is spent. Although the ripe fruit of mayapples is edible, the rest of the plant (leaves, stems, seeds and roots) is poisonous.
Mayapples are ephemerals, meaning the entire plant dies back and disappears by mid-summer.
Grow mayapples in moist, amendment-rich, well-drained soil in part to full shade. Books state they require slightly moist soil. I guess the mayapples in my garden forgot to read the books, because they have formed a large colony in the dry shade created by silver maples.
If your garden doesn’t already host some mayapples, get some at your local garden center and garden with me!