Mayapple (Mandrake)

Podophyllum peltatum

mayapple_colony_3-26-12.jpg

Photo of mayapple colony looking like numerous green umbrellas on forest floor
Julianna Schroeder
Edible
Skin irritating
Family

Berberidaceae (barberries)

Description

Flowers single flowers develop only on plants with 2 leaves from the axil of the leaf stems, white, with 6–9 waxy, spreading petals, a green, clublike pistil, to 3 inches across. A rare pink form exists. Blooms March–May. Leaves large, to 1 foot wide, with many deep notches to near middle of leaf, the segments with coarse teeth, arising from a smooth stem to 1½ feet tall. Fruit a “may apple,” egg-shaped, to 2 inches long, pale green to yellow, botanically a berry. Plants with only 1 leaf will not flower or fruit; only plants with 2 or 3 leaves form flowers and fruits.

Size

Height: 1 to 1½ feet.

mayapple_flower_3-30-12.jpg

Photo of a mayapple flower with foliage above
Mayapple (Mandrake) (Flower)
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in moist or dry, open woods, ledges of bluffs, sometimes persisting in fields and pastures or on roadsides adjacent to woods. Often found growing in small colonies.

image of Mayapple Mandrake distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Human connections

Leaves, stems, and roots are poisonous but have medicinal use, with one derivative used as a treatment for cancer. The ripe fruits are edible with a pleasant taste and can be eaten raw or made into beverages, jellies, and preserves. Handling rootstocks can cause dermatitis in some people.

Ecosystem connections

The closest relatives of mayapple growing in Missouri are shrubs, including the introduced Japanese barberry (an ornamental that escapes cultivation) and two native barberries that are rarely encountered. Details of flower and fruit anatomy reflect plant relationships better than leaves and stems.