I like to call these fairy umbrellas. Perhaps my mind is in vacation mode, but they remind me of a crowded beach. I like to imagine all of the little fairies posting up in their favorite woodland area to enjoy a day of relaxing. Maybe in the late summer when the fruit develops, they use it to play a game similar to beach volleyball…
Would you believe that the majority of these plants (see pic 1) are actually from one individual? That’s right, American Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is a rhizomatous perennial, reproducing asexually by means of rhizomes underground. It’s one of the first early spring wildflowers in Ohio, often found in shaded woodland areas. Mayapple is hard to mistake for many other wildflowers because of its large rounded leaves and colonial growth. The shoots that grow vertically, producing the colony above ground, consist of either one leaf (asexual) or two leaves (sexual). A lone flower is produced in the axil of the plants with two leaves, usually in May (see pic 2). This plant does not appear to be trying very hard to attract pollinators with its inconspicuous flower placement, but even more perplexing is that the flower lacks nectar! The pollen produced does in fact attract some native bees and bumblebees. Thus, because Mayapple is extremely unlikely to self-pollinate and is lacking in its sexual reproduction design, the majority of the energy goes into rhizome growth, creating a highly clonal species.
Mayapple stays in suspiciously pristine condition compared to neighboring plants full of insect damage. That’s because the majority of the plant is poisonous. In fact, podophyllotoxin can be extracted from the rhizomes or leaves and used medicinally for cancer treatment. The only edible part is the berry, but even then you need to avoid the seed and the skin. If the flower is pollinated, a small lemon shaped berry is produced by August. Some mammals and birds are known to eat the berry, but the primary Mayapple seed disperser is the unsuspecting Eastern box turtle. Even slower than a turtle, if a seed successfully disperses to a new area to grow, it is believed to take around five years to mature to produce rhizomes! I sure do love the image of a box turtle munching berries in the shade of mini umbrellas. Would the turtle be considered a pet to the fairies? Would it cause pandemonium like Jaws? I encourage you to go on a hike in search of these flowers currently blooming and again in late summer for the berries. Who knows, maybe you’ll come across a fairy or even a box turtle!