Mayapple is a perennial wildflower and ground covering that is much more common in native woodland areas than in cultivated gardens. Wildflower identification can be challenging, but mayapple is one wild plant that's quite easy to identify because nothing else looks even remotely like it. Moreover, as a perennial that spreads via rhizomes to form large colonies, you're most likely to encounter it in a mass formation that's hard to miss.
Growing 12 to 18 inches tall, each plant has a single stem with one or two large, heavily divided umbrella-like leaves. Plants with two leaves may produce a large white flower with six to eight petals in early spring, though the flower is usually hidden beneath the leaves. The flowers give way to a single greenish fruit that turns golden when ripe. Plant seeds or divide in early spring or fall; be patient with the seeds or divide to enjoy a fast spread of ground covering. Under the right conditions, mayapple can spread and become invasive. This plant's roots and leaves are also toxic to both humans and animals.
|Botanical Name||Podophyllum peltatum|
|Common Names||Mayapple, American mandrake, wild mandrake, Indian apple, duck's foot|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||12-18 in. tall, 9-12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade to full shade|
|Soil Type||Humusy, well-drained soil|
|Soil pH||4.6-7.0 (acidic to neutral)|
|Hardiness Zones||3-8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Eastern North America, Southern U.S. to Texas|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and animals|
Mayapple plants are indigenous to both moist and dry woodland areas of eastern North America (zones 3 to 8) and will thrive best if grown in similar conditions. Select an area with soil that drains well and where there is enough space for the plants to establish a small colony. Established colonies will tolerate some drought, but start new plants in moist loam enriched with compost.
When using this plant in your landscaping, do remember that it's a spring ephemeral that will go dormant at some point in the summer. This means that it will mainly be useful in the spring and early summer. It also means that it will leave a hole in its space that you may wish to fill with something else for the second half of the summer. Don't plant mayapple in a spot where you need continuous color.
As a shade-tolerant plant, mayapple is a natural for woodland gardens. If you live in eastern North America, consider mayapple for your native-plant garden. If you live elsewhere in its hardiness range and wish to grow it, it helps to know that this plant can naturalize easily. If the conditions are right, mayapple might naturalize a bit too freely and spread out of control to the point of being invasive.
At the southern end of mayapple's range, a location with full shade is best. In the North, however, they can take some sun, especially if they receive sufficient moisture.
Mayapple plants prefer a well-drained soil that tends toward the acidic side of the pH scale. It will do in either moist or dry soil, provided it is humusy and well-drained.
Mayapple prefers relatively moist soil, but like many woodland wildflowers, it has good tolerance for dry conditions, provided it is in a shady location. A good amount of organic material in the soil generally helps provide necessary moisture retention.
Temperature and Humidity
Mayapple does well in temperature and humidity levels throughout its hardiness range, though you should expect it to die back by mid-summer.
No feeding is necessary for mayapple, as this wildflower generally derives all the nutrients it needs from organic material in the soil. In poor soils, amending with compost will help the plants.
Mayapple can be propagated either by root division or by planting the seeds collected from the fruit. But seeds can take four to five years to grow to maturity, so root division is the more common and preferred method. Mayapple can be propagated through several methods. Here's how:
- In fall or early spring when the plant is dormant dig up the roots.
- Carefully using a spade or garden shears, divide the root systems.
- Replant where you would like expansive ground covering that even wildlife will avoid due to its tart leaves.
How to Grow Mayapple From Seed
Mayapple can be grown from seed. If you are planting in late fall, plant seeds right below the surface of the soil. Make sure to soak and soften the seeds in water for 24 hours prior to planting. Once planted, ensure the soil stays moist until germination. Note the plant will develop slowly once seedlings are established.
Common Pests & Diseases
Mayapple can develop a specific disease in the spring called mayapple rust. The top side of the leaves develop yellow or light green spots and the underside of the leaves may develop rust-colored spores or pustules. Leaves may pucker and drop but the plant tolerates it well. The disease is usually not fatal to the plant and does not require treatment.
How to Get Mayapple to Bloom
Mayapple blooms in the spring with white flowers that are mostly hidden beneath the leaves. Only mayapple plants with two leaves will produce the large, white flower. To encourage blooming, ensure your plant as moist, acidic soil. Avoid mowing or competition from other plants. Do not deadhead as the flowers give way to fruit.
How fast does mayapple grow?
Mayapple grows approximately 4 to 6 inches per year.
How long does mayapple live?
This plant lives for around 10 years.
What's the difference between mayapple and European mandrake?
European mandrake boasts two unique traits. First, its roots are sometimes shaped like miniature human beings, and second, it's a hallucinogen. For both of these reasons, European mandrake figured prominently in magical lore and it was thought capable of improving fertility. Medicinally, European mandrake was also valued as an anesthetic and a sleep aid. European mandrake is in the same family (nightshade) as bittersweet nightshade, a family infamous for its toxicity.
Podophyllum peltatum. North Carolina State Extension.