3. Mayapples

The Idea Garden displays several examples of native groundcovers. Podophyllum peltatum, the Mayapple, is a fascinating plant with umbrella-like leaves. They can form dense colonies once established and stay about 1-2 feet tall. The spring flowers are showy but open under the leaves; crouching is necessary to view them. The plant produces highly poisonous podophyllotoxins that make them largely unappetizing to most herbivores. However, once the fruit softens and turns bright yellow in late summer, the jelly-like interior is edible to humans and other animals. 


Since Mayapple fruits are heavy and stationary, they are totally dependent on animals to move them to new locations away from the original colony. One animal in particular—the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)— appears to be a primary disperser of Mayapple seed. The fruits hang at the perfect height for a turtle to take a bite. This appears to be a doubly adaptive relationship for the Mayapple, as its seeds are much more likely to germinate post-turtle digestion.