When mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) start to poke above the soil in early spring, they look like green mushrooms. But as they quickly rise, a pair of large, lobed, umbrella-like leaves unfurls atop each stalk. At the V-shaped juncture of the leaf stalks, a single nodding white flower blooms. The flower develops into an oval, yellowish fruit that looks like a miniature lemon when it matures in early summer. Like many other spring ephemeral wildflowers, mayapple dies back by midsummer. It spreads by thick, rhizomatous roots to form dense colonies over time.
Common name: Mayapple, American mandrake
Botanical name: Podophyllum peltatum
Plant type: herbaceous perennial
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 1 to 1½ feet
• Sun: Part to full shade (under deciduous trees)
• Soil: Slightly acidic woodland soil with plenty of organic matter
• Moisture: Slightly moist to slightly dry
• Mulch: A light layer of leaves
• Pruning: None needed
• Fertilizer: An annual sprinkling of compost
• From seeds or division
Pests and diseases
• Rust (a fungal disease) sometimes appears on leaves but does not require treatment.
• Because of its colony-forming growth habit, mayapple makes a lovely spring groundcover for woodland gardens.
• Fully ripe mayapple fruits can be used to make preserves, but the plant’s other parts are toxic.
All in the family
• Mayapple is a member of the barberry family (Berberidaceae), which contains both woody plants like barberry (Berberis spp.) and herbaceous perennials like mayapple.
• Other herbaceous plants in the barberry family include epimediums (Epimedium spp.), twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla), and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides).
Where to buy
(Photo by Elizabeth Noll)