The Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is a native perennial herb that grows to a height of about one foot and has a very distinctive umbrella-shaped leaf. May apples are found throughout the east, extending from Maine all the way south to Florida and westward to the Great Plains. May apples prefer shady conditions in forests with deep, rich soils. The Mayapple is an example of a springtime herb showing up in late April and persisting until about July in Frederick County. The Mayapple produces a fruit “apple” in early summer that ripens to yellow. The appearance and taste of this fruit has given rise to the nickname, “wild lemon.” The fruit can be made into jellies or eaten raw. However, given the strong laxative nature of the fruit and the poisonous nature of the seeds, it is best to leave this plant alone. Other than the fruit, the rest of the Mayapple is toxic.

Mayapple flower in Gambrill State Park

Credit: - Mike Kay

Native Americans used the Mayapple as a laxative, insecticide, and a poison. Various chemicals found in this plant inhibit human cell growth, and they have been used in treatments of various cancers. The Mayapple is described in numerous folklore and is known as witch’s umbrella since it was believed that pulling this plant from the ground would render a person insane.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 8/15/20