P&PDL Picture of the Week for
May 12, 2008

It’s May, so it's Mayapple Season

Glenn Nice, Weed Diagnostician, Botany & Plant Pathology, Purdue University

This year seems to be a good year for mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum). The common name mayapple is fitting for this plant, as it generally blooms in May and then forms a yellow to red berry that, with a little imagination, can look similar to an apple.

Mayapple is a perennial that generally prefers the woods. However, this year I have seen several patches of mayapple growing along the sides of roads in open sunlight. This perennial is native to the US and easily identified. These plants generally look like a bunch of umbrellas on the forest floor. One or two leaves are born on a single stalk, and the leaves have five to nine lobes. Flowers can be found in the axis of plants that have two leaves. Flowers are white to cream colored with 6-9 waxy petals.

Mayapple is reported to be a toxic plant. The leaves, stems, roots are not to be taken orally. It is toxic to cattle, humans, and swine [1]. In the past, mayapple has been used as a medicinal plant. It has been reported to have been used as a purgative, a possible treatment for venereal warts, and to treat constipation [2]. The prescribing of medicinal plants is like the prescribing of today’s pharmacuticles, always consult your doctor or a trained professional. Mayapple is of interest to the pharmaceutical industry, because the leaves of mayapple are a source of podophyllotixin, a precursor to the cancer drugs etoposide, teniposide, and etopohos [3].


1) Cornell University Poisonous Plants Information Database. Accessed May 7, 2008. [http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/index.html]

2) Krochmal, A., R.S. Walters, and R.M. Doughty. 1971. A Guide to Medicinal Plants of Appalachia. Agriculture Handbook No. 400. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

3) Bedir, E., M. Tellez, H. Lata, I. Khan, K.E. Cushman, and R.M. Moraes. 2006. Post-harvest and scale-up extraction of American mayapple leaves for podophyllotoxin production. Industrial Crops and Products. Vol. 24 (1), pp. 3-7.

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Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service