Podophyllum peltatum

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Mayapple in flower
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Berberidaceae
Genus: Podophyllum
Species: P. peltatum
Binomial name
Podophyllum peltatum

Podophyllum peltatum, commonly called Mayapple, or May Apple,[1] (or hogapple, Indian apple, mayflower, umbrella plant, wild lemon (flavor of the fruit), wild mandrake, American mandrake (shape of rhizomes) or "devil's apple" (used for Solanum linnaeanum elsewhere)), is a herbaceous perennial plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to deciduous forests in of eastern North America.[2] Like many other spring ephemerals, it emerges from below ground before the canopy of the forest opens, and then slowly withers later in the summer; the foliage is, however, somewhat more long-lived than other spring ephemerals such as Trillium.

The stems grow to 30–40 cm (about 12-15 inches) tall, with 2 or occasionally 3 palmately lobed leaves up to 20–30 cm (about 8-12 inches) diameter with 5-9 deeply cut lobes on reproductive individuals, or one peltate (umbrella-like) leaf on sterile individuals. The single secund white flower 3–5 cm (1-2 inches) diameter, with six (rarely up to nine) petals, is produced at the axil of the two leaves (the upper two in a three-leaved plant); the flower matures into a yellow-greenish fruit 2–5 cm long.[3] The plant is widespread and appears in clonal colonies in open mesic woodlands. Individual shoots are often connected by systems of thick rhizomes.[1] As with many kinds of wild plants, the flower provides sexual reproduction while the rhizome provides asexual reproduction.[4] The former provides long distance dispersal, while the latter allows the formation of dense circular clones. There are costs to producing flowers, since the production of a flower and fruit reduces the probability that the plant will survive, or flower, in following years.[5]

Many species of plants have mycorrhizae to assist with nutrient uptake in infertile conditions.[4] Mayapple plants are considered obligately dependent upon such mycorrhizae, although it may also be facultatively dependent upon rhizome age and soil nutrient levels.[6] Plants are commonly found infected by the rust Allodus podophylli, appearing as honeycomb-patterned orange colonies under the leaves, and yellowish lesions on the upper surface.[7] [8]

Though the common name is mayapple,[9] it is the flower that appears in early May, not the "apple". The fruit or "apple" is produced early summer and ripens later in summer.


The ripened fruit is edible in little amounts, though when consumed in large amounts the fruit is poisonous. The rhizome, foliage and roots are also poisonous.[10] Mayapple contains podophyllotoxin,[11] which is highly toxic if consumed, but can be used as a topical medicine.

Medicinal use[edit]

Mayapple has been used by American Indians as an emetic, cathartic, and antihelmintic agent.[citation needed] They also boiled the poisonous root, and used the water to cure stomach aches.[citation needed] The rhizome of the mayapple has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, originally by indigenous inhabitants and later by other settlers.[3]

Mayapple can be also used topically for warts, and two of its derivatives, etoposide and teniposide, have shown promise in treating some malignant neoplasms.[12][13]



  1. ^ a b Gleason, H.A. 1968. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Vol. 2. Hafner, New York. 655 p., p. 188.
  2. ^ "Podophyllum peltatum". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. 
  3. ^ a b Fondren, Brian T. "Mayapple". Ethnobotanical leaflets. Retrieved 2006-06-03. 
  4. ^ a b Keddy, P.A. 2007. Plants and Vegetation: Origins, Processes, Consequences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 666 p.
  5. ^ Sohn, J.J. and D. Policansky. 1977. The Costs of Reproduction in the Mayapple Podophyllum Peltatum (Berberidaceae). Ecology 58:1366–1374. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1935088
  6. ^ Watson, M.A. and five others. 2001. The developmental ecology of mycorrhizal associations in mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, Berberidaceae. Evolutionary Ecology 15: 425-442.
  7. ^ "Puccinia podophylli Schwein. Mayapple rust". Iowa State University, Ada Hayden Herbarium (ISC). Retrieved 2013-03-16. 
  8. ^ Bunyard, Britt A. 2013 "Mayapple Rust Resurrection" FUNGI 6(1): 38-39.
  9. ^ Podophyllum peltatum at USDA PLANTS Database
  10. ^ Blanchan, Neltje (2002). Wild Flowers: An Aid to Knowledge of our Wild Flowers and their Insect Visitors. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. 
  11. ^ Moraes, R.M., H. Lata, E. Bedir, M. Maqbool, and K. Cushman. 2002. On American Mayapple as practical source of podophyllotoxin p. 527–532. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.
  12. ^ Brunton LL et al. Goodman and Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, chapter: 61. Cytotoxic agents/Epipodophyllotoxins Twelfth Edition ISBN 978-0-07-162442-8
  13. ^ Lewis, W.H. and M.P.F. Elvin-Lewis. 1977. Medical Botany. Plants Affecting Man's Health. Wiley, New York. 515 p. p. 123-124.

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