May in April…

Mayapple 1 copyright 2012 Pamela Breitberg
Mayapple 2 copright 2012 Pamela Breitberg

Its April and the Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) colonies are rising. So it appears when looking at the forest floor that April showers have caused umbrellas to open wide. Truth is that it is a dry month, but the parallel is fun to contemplate.

These plants spread via rhizomes and as such tend to live in colonies. The return of cool weather, normal for April, probably will slow their growth and delay bloom until May. There is no “apple” in May from the Mayapple, one must wait until late summer for this. To eat the Mayapple fruit one MUST wait until it is fully ripe, otherwise it is POISONOUS. Other parts of the plant are toxic as well except seeds that are tolerable to forest herbivores.

Twenty six years of living near two settlements have allowed me the chance to see the spread of the Mayapples in a section of the forest otherwise overrun with invasive Garlic Mustard and Buckthorn. I give a silent “YES” each year when I see that some of the “natives” are maintaining their ground (literally!).

Mayapple bud copyright 2012 Pamela Breitberg

Get down on your knees or better yet, your stomach when spotting a colony of Mayapple on the forest floor. Investigation work will be necessary to find the bloom next month. It is one of the few plants that hide their flower under their leaves. When you’re down there it’s the perfect opportunity to study the wondrous ecosystem of the forest floor, understudied by most passersby.

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