A Special Native


HerbDoc has some thoughts on one of her favorite natives:

My favorite native plant, Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) has fully opened its leaves and carpeted the rear of the herb garden.  Two weeks ago the plants resembled tiny furled umbrellas, and they will soon be in bloom.  Each mayapple has a single white flower, which is followed by a small red fruit.

Although some people use the mature fruit to prepare jellies and juices, the entire plant, including roots, seeds, leaves and raw fruit is quite toxic.  When my children were small I kept them away from the plants by telling them that leprechauns lived under the green umbrellas and could be frightened away by a lot of movement.  It had the added advantage of keeping the boys quiet as they were always trying to sneak up and catch a glimpse of the elusive leprechauns!

Early records show that Native Americans often used the entire plant to prepare insecticides, and early American ethnic groups drank a remedy from the dehydrated rhizomes as a laxative and to cure intestinal worms.

Interestingly the main ingredient in “Carter’s Little Liver Pills” was also the mayapple.

More recently researchers have found that podophyllotoxin, the fatal ingredient in the herb, stops cell division, and the FDA has approved two drugs for use with various types of cancer.

All of this aside, it is a beautiful little ground cover which always signals spring to me.  It is very easy to grow and since it is native to the woodlands, likes some shade and a moist, well-drained soil.  It has rhizomes that are pencil thin but can travel about six feet in good soil.  Its only disadvantage is that it tends to die back when the weather becomes really hot in late summer.


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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7 Responses to A Special Native

  1. gardenpest says:

    My dear friend gave a few to me a few years ago and wow, they provide an interesting carpet under the oaks. Your leprechaun story made me smile, lovely gift to give to your children – a sense of imagination.

    Nicely written contribution, thanks.


    • dirtynailz says:

      Thanks for the support as usual, GP, and happy Mother’s Day.
      I know what you mean about HerbDoc’s leprechaun ruse. Very devious…er… creative.


  2. HerbDoc says:

    Now, now! If you were raising three little boys under the age of 5, what would you do? 🙂 Anyway, my story borders on the truth as in later years I designed a fairy garden a stone’s throw from the herb garden!
    Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there; relax and enjoy the garden!


  3. Wendy says:

    Interesting post! Love the leprechaun story. I had thought about creating a fairy garden too.


  4. gardenpest says:

    Sorry but I didn’t know where to post this followup on an earlier post about how to find locally grown organic ornamental plants and perennials.

    Next weekend Green View Farm (organic) is having a plant sale. Quite a selection there. Located on Tuckertown Rd, South Kingstown.


  5. HerbDoc says:

    Fairy gardens are such fun, Wendy! I have been adding to mine over the past 3 years or so. It’s just a tiny corner space in the perennial garden with a solar “toad house” and some fairies. It looks so intruiging when it’s lit at night. I’ll take some pics and do a post soon.

    Thanks for the info on the organic plant sale, GP! I’ve been bringing so many plants in and out of the house lately that I’m going to need a staff to help me plant them all!


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