Friday, February 24, 2012

Podophyllum peltatum

I remember when I was little, my mother dug up a clump of Mayapples one spring and planted them in the back yard. It was the beginning of a little woodland garden in our small backyard garden on our city lot. She added some ferns, violets, a Jack-in-the-Pulpit and probably a couple of other things. I loved that little spot. It wasn't as showy as my grandfathers chrysanthemums or his roses, but there was something so quiet and refreshing about all of those shades of green.

Mayapples are native to woodland areas in Eastern North America. Each plant has 2 or 3 leaves and a single white flower, nodding beneath the leaves. Bumblebees pollinate the flowers. Mayapples prefer dappled shade and moist to slightly dry conditions. The best soil for Mayapples is a rich loamy one with plenty of organic matter. It is easy to start new plants from rhizomes. The foliage dies down by the end of summer. The fruit forms by mid summer and is edible in moderate amounts once they are fully ripe. The very ripe fruits are eaten by turtles and possums and possibly raccoons and skunks. Because Mayapple leaves are poisonous and have a very bitter taste, they are usually left alone.

In the fall, after the leaves die down, the rhizomes are dried and pulverized into fine particles to use the plant medicinally. It has been used to treat liver problems and to get rid of warts, but the most common use is as a laxative and it was the active ingredient in 'Carter's Little Liver Pills'. The plant extract has been used topically to get rid of warts and moles and has also been used to treat some forms of skin cancer. Two drugs derived from the Mayapple are used to treat cancer and research is continuing on other chemotherapy drugs,


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