Mayapple – Podophyllum peltatum

Mayapple - Podophyllum peltatum, photo by Steven Foster

Mayapple - Podophyllum peltatum, photo by Steven Foster

Overall At-Risk Score: 34

Latin name:

Podophyllum peltatum

Common Name:

Mayapple, Indian-apple, wild-mandrake

Family:

Berberidaceae (Barberry family)

Lifespan:

Perennial

Reproduction:

Mayapples appear to disperse seeds primarily through consumption by native vertebrate animals. Several species eat ripe mayapple fruit, especially small mammals that feast on the fallen fruit. The box turtle (Terrapene carolina) and the raccoon (Procyon lotor) have both been specifically studied in relation to the germination and distribution of mayapple seeds and have been found to have a positive effect on both. They are also known to form colonies through their rhizomes, creating tightly woven patches of roots.

Geographic Region:

Mayapples live in most of the eastern U.S., spanning from Texas to Florida and going as far north as Quebec, Canada. They can be found in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Mayapples can also be found in the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec.

Habitat:

Mayapple plants grow best in moist soil in part to full shade. They live in mixed deciduous forests and shaded fields, road banks, and riverbanks.

Ability to Withstand Disturbance and Overharvest:

Seedlings can take several years to reach maturity, and there is a high chance of seed death in the process of being transported in the guts of mammals that eat them, so killing a patch of mayapple can mean it will be years until it recovers.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Podophyllum peltatum is “Endangered” in the state of Florida.

Podophyllum peltatum has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

The primary medical component of Podophyllum peltatum is podophyllotoxin, but it should be noted that as the name suggests, podophyllotoxin is highly toxic. If used inappropriately, this plant can cause vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, fever, and in serious cases may cause a coma. Every part of the plant is poisonous except for the ripened fruit.

The roots of Podophyllum peltatum were used historically as a laxative and a purgative, and there are a handful of references of the plant being used to try to treat boils and rheumatism. Several groups of people used the ripened fruit as a food source, and some recognized it as a poison.

In modern days a semi-synthetic version of podophyllotoxin called Etoposide is used in the treatment of testicular cancer, small-cell lung cancer, and lymphoma.

Podophyllotoxin and its less refined version, podophyllum resin, can be prescribed by doctors to treat genital warts, though usually podophyllin resin must be applied by a doctor because it can have adverse effects if used inappropriately.

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species and Lookalikes:

Mayapple fruits are an important part of the diets of many animals within its region, including deer, turtles, and many small mammals.

Recommendations For Industrial and Home Use:

Mayapple has seen a rise in popularity in woodland gardens, meaning that it is now easier than ever to find cultivated mayapple plants. Due to the poisonous nature of nearly every part of this plant, we recommend that its use as a medicinal substance be left only to acting physicians.

Citations


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