|Mayapple in flower|
Podophyllum peltatum, commonly called Mayapple, or May Apple, (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. 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. The plant is widespread and appears in clonal colonies in open mesic woodlands. Individual shoots are often connected by systems of thick rhizomes. As with many kinds of wild plants, the flower provides sexual reproduction while the rhizome provides asexual reproduction. 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.
Many species of plants have mycorrhizae to assist with nutrient uptake in infertile conditions. Mayapple plants are considered obligately dependent upon such mycorrhizae, although it may also be facultatively dependent upon rhizome age and soil nutrient levels. Plants are commonly found infected by the rust Puccinia podophylli, appearing as honeycomb-patterned orange colonies under the leaves, and yellowish lesions on the upper surface.
Though the common name is mayapple, 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. Mayapple contains podophyllotoxin, which is highly toxic if consumed, but can be used as a topical medicine.
Mayapple has been used by American Indians as an emetic, cathartic, and antihelmintic agent. They also boiled the poisonous root, and used the water to cure stomach aches. The rhizome of the mayapple has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, originally by indigenous inhabitants and later by other settlers.
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