The Overlooked Mayapple

Mayapples are up Kansas City woodlands.  Many may take for granted the colonies of mayapples that pepper loomy woodland floors, but this seemingly common plant has some very unique characteristics.

The first noticeable attribute is the large domed leaves with 6-9 deep lobes and each leaf can be up to a foot in diameter.  Fertile plants will have two leaves.  At the base of the joining petioles, a 1 1/2″ white flower is produced.  Infertile plants will only have a single leaf.  Mayapples may not produce a bloom until year 12. The infertile plants often die back in mid-summer.

Colonies of mayapples can be very old.  They spread through rhizomes and will not develop rhizomes until they are at least 5 years old.  They spread at a rate of only 4-6″ per year.  Mayapples put almost half their energy into rhizomes and only 8% into reproduction.  Fruit bearing plants  will have reduced rhizome growth and may not flower the following year. The fruit is 2 inches long , lemon shaped and  pale green to yellow in color and a favorite among box turtles.

There is an interesting relationship between box turtles and mayapples, as they are the only positively known way seeds of the mayapple are dispersed.  Germination from seed is also greatly increased once the seed passes through the digestive tract of a box turtle.

When you are in the woods now through May, check the mayapples for their cheery white flowers and thank a box turtle for spreading this wonderful plant around.

 

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