One of the fascinating spring Eliza Howell Park wildflowers is the Mayapple. The fruit – the so-called apple – is not ripe until later in the year, but the flower blooms in May. Mayapple is, however, known at least as much for its foliage as it is for its blossoms or fruit.
According to the Prince William Wildflower Society, a Virginia native plant society, a Cherokee name for Mayapple can be translated as “it wears a hat,” and an Osage name as “it pains the bowels.”
Mayapple is a colony plant; a single root has many umbrella-like stems, connected by underground rhyzomes. Dozens of these stems make up a typical Mayapple stand. Mayapple stands or patches are largely avoided by mammal herbivores, like deer, because the foliage, the rhysomes, and the (green) fruit are all poisonous.
The above photo is from April 26, 2017.
Mayapple grows in rich moist soil in deciduous forests and can be seen in a few locations in the wooded areas of Eliza Howell. The stand that I regularly observe was late in developing this year, as were other wildflowers. Most of the stems did not emerge until mid-April. (the next picture is from April 25, 2018.)
A few days later, the stand was taking shape and the plants were about ½ of their adult size (which is a foot to a foot and a half).
Some plants have only one leaf and will not have flower/fruit, but most have two leaves. These produce a single flower at the fork of the two leaves.
Though the single white flowers are very attractive, they can be missed when they bloom because they face downward under and are shaded by the umbrella leaves. (The next picture is from May 7, 2017.)
The fruit is green, turning yellow when it ripens. Ripe fruit is edible (when the seeds have been removed), the only edible part of the entire plant.
The Cherokee and Osage names for what we call Mayapple are, I think, both very good. I don’t have my own descriptive name…..yet.