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Bowling Green, KY
Daily News (Bowling Green, KY)
The Great Outdoors: Mayapple a unique plant
GEORDON T. HOWELL, For the Daily News
Published: April 10, 2011
Each spring I eagerly await the arrival of this woodland perennial, as its rapid growth guarantees that warm weather is finally near.
Mayapple is one of the first plants to sprout above leaf litter each March and the vigorous plant will stick around for quite some time throughout the remainder of the warm months.
Currently, this appealing emerald plant is nearly ready to bloom in our locale, yet the mayapple, or mandrake as some call it, begins each new season as a small bundle of dark green leaves edging up out of the ground looking much like a butterfly just emerging from its cocoon.
For the mayapple, though, this period of crumpled leaves doesn’t last very long before it bursts skyward and unveils a giant, lobed canopy that appears almost tropical among the awakening Kentucky landscape.
Patches spring up inside the dense woods and along peripheries where only scattered sunshine reaches, and usually once a patch is established, one will be able to depend on it coming back year after year.
Mayapple is a unique plant, not only in appearance, but also in that the woodland plant is classified as both edible and poisonous at the same time. Ripe fruits or apples, which hang singularly like small, yellow lemons late in the mayapple’s annual cycle, are reported to be edible, although I’ve never known anyone who has tried them.
On the other hand, the unripened fruit, roots, seeds and most every other portion of the plant are very poisonous. Having said this, it is probably best to simply enjoy the mayapple by sight instead of taste.
Something I find interesting is that although mayapple spreads easily by underground rhizomes once a single plant becomes well-rooted, mayapple often needs a bit of help getting started from seed.
Box turtles are an important catalyst for mayapple because these unique reptiles are one of the most important depositors of the plants’ heavily coated seeds. Without passing through the digestive tract of animals, mayapple seeds have very low germination rates, and box turtles appear to have one of the better suited “mechanics” for making the seeds more ready to grow after the land-loving turtles enjoy the low-hanging mayapple fruit.
Casual onlookers rarely notice the small flowers beneath the wide umbrellas of mayapple, but in the near future, area mayapple plants featuring two-prongs will be in bloom with a small white flower, which will ultimately turn into fruit following pollination.
Without studying a plant growing on an incline or by looking at a mayapple up close, it is difficult to ever view the obscured flower. Many years ago mayapple root was sold along with its neighbors, ginseng and goldenseal, for medicinal purposes, and today there is ongoing research concerning the mayapple’s possible aid in battling certain types of cancer.
For the most part, though, commercial interest in mayapple nowadays is primarily due to an interest in native landscaping by homeowners wishing to beautify their lawns and gardens exclusively with vegetation inherent to the site.
Started mayapple plants are sold for ornamental use online and at nurseries, although many folks with green thumbs are successful at transplanting mayapple if the conditions of the new site mimic where the plant originated.
Take a moment in the coming weeks to observe and enjoy this common, but interesting native perennial of Kentucky.
– Geordon T. Howell is the outdoor columnist for the Daily News. Contact him at email@example.com.
Copyright 2011 News Publishing LLC (Bowling Green, KY)