Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple, Mandrake)

Podophyllum peltatum is a poisonous woodland plant located in the United States Mid-West. Consuming even 5 grams of this is enough to be fatal. Although the fruits are edible at one point in time, the majority of the plant is extremely toxic. These tend to grow in shady portions of forested areas, although their foliage dies off in mid to late summer. The emergence of these often correlates with that of morel mushrooms.

Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple, Mandrake)
Family: Berberidaceae
Subspecies: ‘Spotty Dotty’
Native: North America
Hardiness Zones: 3-8
Height: to 45cm
Diameter: to 30cm
Root System: rhizome
Growth Rate: slow (sending up only 1-2 leaves per season)
Age: perennial
Deciduous: yes
Monoecious/dioecious: monoecious
Monocot/dicot: dicot

Tolerates: drought, dry soils, heavy shade (usually escapes thickest forest shade by emerging before tree foliage)
Problems (major): toxic
Problems (minor): none
Poisonous: The foliage, roots, seeds, and rhizones are poisonous and taste bitter. In limited quantities, the soft yellow fruit is edible once it has been thoroughly cleaned. If ingested, symptoms of the toxin are vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, fevers, and potentially comas. Eating this plant may be fatal (5 grams of the toxic resin is enough to kill). Resin dust can inflame the eyes and is toxic to the skin and mucous membranes. The poison in the resin is capable of killing off fetuses and tumors, so pregnant women in particular should avoid consumption.

Soil requirements: 5.6-7.5 pH – rich, moist, humusy soils are preferred
Air Requirements: unknown, likely intolerant of urban pollution
Watering requirement: medium, water regularly
Sun requirement: full sun to part shade
Leaf structure: umbrella-shaped, deep green (initially cylindrical, light brown), lobed, 1-2 leaves per plant, emergence occurs around same time as Morels, to 15 cm in diameter, overlapping if double
Flowering structure: solitary, 6-9 broad white petals, single superior ovary encompassed by 6 stamens, pleasant floral fragrance, grows between dichotomously (Y-shaped) fork between 2 leaves (will not appear if singly-leaved)
Flowering frequency: April-May, persisting for 3 weeks
Fruit: yellow-red, apple-like, edible for brief period if properly cooked, dispersed by small mammals

Notable characteristics:
The plant is highly toxic and should be avoided by almost everyone. Part of the fruit is edible at one point in time, but consumption is highly dangerous and potentially fatal. These common woodland plants show up early

Although much research is still needed, some lignans and glycosides may prove useful cancer remedies. This poison has apparently been used for assassinations in the past, albeit the details are not always clear.

Sources used:

Flower, dichotomous branching visible

Medium-sized colony


Leaf structure

All of the images provided were taken by me. They may be used for educational/informational purposes only, provided that this article/online journal is appropriately cited first.


1 Comment

Filed under Plant Analysis

One response to “Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple, Mandrake)

  1. Carl Sagan (Lucas)

    I’ll keep this in mind if I ever need to pull a Hitler and there is no cyanide around.

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