Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It seems to me that many flowers have bloomed earlier this year than most years, probably as a result of warm weather and rain. Trout lilies and trilliums have already put on their show, and just this past week the pinxter azaleas have gone full bloom as well. I spotted one other interesting plant with a beautiful blossom while kayaking the Little River this week that confirms my suspicions of early flowering this year - the mayapple.

Mayapple is the common name of Podophyllum peltatum, and it is a herbaceous plant found in open mesic woodlands. The name itself hints at the bloom rather than the "apple" or fruit of the plant - the flower makes its appearance in early May, although these were found blooming on April 13th. The fruit appears later in summer.

This interesting plant has a stem that is typically bifurcated, and the single white bloom is found right above that split. Where you find one mayapple (also called umbrella plant due to the shape of the leaves), there are almost always others, as this is a clonal plant that attaches through root rhizomes.

This plant is unique, and the only other species in this genus occur in Asia. Although when ripe the fruits can be eaten in small amounts, and are a favorite of box turtles and opossums, in larger quantities they are toxic. The plant is sometimes used externally for medicinal purposes to treat warts.

Although the species is fairly common in North Carolina, it is endangered in Florida. It is another neat plant that needs hardwood forest habitat to exist, and as a useful plant both to humans and wildlife, not to mention a beautiful one as well, mayapple is yet another species that we all benefit from, and another good reason for keeping high quality habitat around.

-- Crystal Cockman

Photograph by Crystal Cockman.