Mayapple is a perennial native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. It can be found in the spring and early summer growing in woodland colonies.
Several plants grow from the same creeping underground rhizome. Some of these produce a single, umbrella-like leaf, and do not bear fruit. Others are double-leaf, and produce a single, downward facing white bloom below the foliage in April or May.
The bloom becomes a single green fruit, which persists after the foliage has died back at the end of summer and the plant has gone dormant. This fruit is eaten by many species of animals, and can be hard to find because of this. It is safe to eat only after it is allowed to ripen fully. The unripe fruit is green and hard and becomes soft and yellow when it is ripe. The skin and seeds should not be consumed.
Mayapple saw historic use by the Native Americans as an emetic, a cathartic, an anthelmintic, and as an antidote for snakebites. However, it was also used as a poison, and is too toxic to be considered medicinally for home use. All parts of the mayapple plant are toxic, including the unripe fruit. It contains podopyllotoxin, which causes gastrointestinal symptoms upon ingestion, and dermal irritation following skin contact. Symptoms of poisoning appear within 12 hours and can be fatal.(1) The toxin is most concentrated in the root.
The plant has some modern medical uses, as described here.
Other common names: Indian apple, American mandrake, wild mandrake, ground lemon.
More identification photos: Ontario wildflowers
Emetic: a substance that induces vomiting
Cathartic: an agent that promotes bowel evacuation. Mayapple does this by by stimulating peristalsis.
Anthelmintic: an agent that destroys or causes the expulsion of parasitic intestinal worms.
Symptoms of toxicity include “altered mental states, tachypnea, peripheral neuropathy, nausea, hypotension, vomiting, and fever, as well as muscle paralysis with respiratory failure, renal failure, hallucinations, and seizures.”