Sunday, April 10, 2016

Beware the Mayapple plant, fruit, root and maybe seeds

Mayapple plants grow in colonies in open woods.
My wife and I made a nature hike in the Mark Twain National Forest this afternoon, and we ran across a plant that I had never seen before.
Fortunately, I am married to a retired, professional horticulturist, and she identified the odd-looking plant as a Mayapple.
"It's poisonous, so don't eat it," she said, and I assured her that I was there to take pictures of, not graze on, the flora of Mark Twain National Forest.
Actually, she said, the leaves, roots and stem are toxic, but the fruit is edible in small quantities. Eat too much fruit, and you're going to get sick, she said. She didn't mention anything about the seeds.
The fruit won't be ready to collect until late summer, early fall. Most of the plants haven't started to form the single bloom yet; we found only one with a tiny blossom in formation.
Although my wife is a compendium of information about plants, I like to find out things for myself, so I checked out the Missouri Department of Conservation's website and learned the single flower only forms on plants with two or more leaves. The plants usually have two leaves, although there may be a plant or two with a single leaf. The white flower that forms will be up to 3 inches across.  The blooms appear in March, April or May, depending on the weather, I guess.
These umbrella plants will grow to 18 inches tall.
The Missouri native wildflower grows in colonies in moist areas, like the spot next to a creek where we found the colony pictures here.
MDC warns the leaves, roots and stems are poisonous, but they are used in medicine production, even as a cancer treatment.
The fruit can be eaten raw, according to MDC, or made into jelly. Nothing was mentioned about the seeds.
I checked another favorite source, the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.
The scientific name is podophyllum peltatum. It is colonized by rhizomes, meaning it spreads roots underground, sending shoots up. My wife says ginger, bearded irises and calla lilies, canna lilies and bamboo do the same. That leads to a dense mat in damp, open woods.
The Lady Bird Johnson center is more emphatic about the poisonous quality of the Mayapple. Unripe fruit, leaves and roots are highly toxic and "may be fatal," the center's website notes. Nothing was said about the seeds.
A bloom is forming on this Mayapple plant.
American indians back in the day used the Mayapple plant for a cathartic cleansing, so it was kind of like a medicine for them. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also notes that the indians used the plant to make an insecticide.
My wife also said the Mayapple is called a wild mandrake.
"Mandrake!" I said. "I can't tell you how many mystery stories I have read over the years in which mandrake was used as a poison to kill someone.
"That makes a fellow want to eat them," I added in a sarcastic tone. "Don't worry about me grazing on these things. Or picking them either."
And I am definitely not going to chew the seeds.

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