My Back Yard - Spring Flowers - May Apple Blossom on Flickr.
My Back Yard - Spring Flowers - May Apple Blossom
Podophyllum peltatum, commonly called Mayapple, or May Apple, (a.k.a. hogapple, Indian apple, mayflower, umbrella plant, wild lemon, wild mandrake, American mandrake or “devil’s apple”) is a herbaceous perennial, native to deciduous forests of eastern North America. It emerges from below ground before the tree canopy leafs out overhead and filters out all the sun, and then goes dormant later in the summer after bearing fruit. It is the flower that appears in early May, not the “apple”. The fruit or “apple” ripens later in summer.
The stems grow to 30–40 cm tall (a little over a foot), usually with 2 or occasionally 3 palmately lobed leaves up to 20–30 cm diameter with 5-9 deeply cut lobes on reproductive individuals, or one peltate (umbrella-like) leaf on sterile individuals. A single white flower, usually with six petals, is produced at the axil of the two leaves which hangs almost out of sight beneath the plants leafy canopy. The flower matures into a yellow-greenish fruit reminiscent of a small green crab apple . The plant is widespread and appears in clonal colonies in open woodlands. As with many kinds of wild plants, the flower provides sexual reproduction and long distance dispersal, while the rhizome provides asexual reproduction and the formation of dense circular clones.
The totally ripened fruit which forms from the May Apple blossom is edible and is said to make a pretty good jam or jelly if properly prepared. The last I looked it was still not part of the Smucker catalog, probably with good reason. However, the unripened fruit and all other parts of the plant (rhizome, foliage, roots and seed) are poisonous at worst and cathartic (look it up) at best. May Apple contains podophyllotoxin, a cytostatic, and is used topically in the treatment of viral and genital warts as well an ingredient in a couple of cancer treatment drugs.
PetPoisonHelpline.com says that podopyllotoxin is easily absorbed through tissue. When pets accidentally ingest or ‘contact’ this plant, May Apple can result in both gastrointestinal (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, drooling) and dermal irritation. My dogs and cats have walked through, on, under, but never around large clones of it on a daily basis for years—all spring and summer—and have never shown any noticeable ill effects. I have never seen my pets nibble or dig in the areas of these plants. However, death has been known to occur in animals such as wild boar that dig up and eat the highly toxic roots. I have no pigs.