American Mayapple

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An American Mayapple on Its Plant

The American Mayapple is an herbaceous perennial plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to the eastern part of North America.

The stems grow between 30 and 40 cm tall. The plant produces two growth forms. The ones with a single umbrella-like leaf do not produce any flower or fruit. The plants having a twin leaf (rarely three-leaf) structure, however, a single white flower with a 3-5 cm diameter with six (rarely up to nine) petals, between the two leaves; this matures into a yellow-greenish fruit 2-5 cm long. The plant normally grows in open woodlands, in groups. Individual shoots are often connected by systems of thick tubers and rhizomes.

Despite the common name "mayapple", it is the flower that appears in early May, not the "apple", which appears later during the summer. The American Mayapple is also called the Devil's apple, Hogapple, Indian apple, Umbrella plant, Wild lemon, Wild mandrake, and American mandrake.

According to Brian Fondren, the rhizome of the mayapple has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, originally by Native Americans and later by other settlers.

Toxicity[change | change source]

All the parts of the plant, excepting the fruit, are poisonous. This plant can kill humans within 24 hours. Even the fruit, though not dangerously poisonous, can cause unpleasant red/yellow diarrhea. The plant contains podophyllotoxin, which is used as a cytostatic and topically in the treatment of genital warts.