Podophyllum peltatum is a perennial, summer green herb (Hicks and Chabot 1985), colonial from a rhizome, roots associated with VA mycorrhizas (Brundrett and Kendrick 1988); stems erect, to 50 cm, large leaves form dense layer that shades out competing vegetation, contains cytotoxic resin, Podophyllotoxin, with violently cathartic effects (Davidson and Forman 1982; Kingsbury 1964), light saturated CO2 uptake adapted to decreasing light levels as canopy closes, (Taylor and Pearcy 1976).
Leaves umbrella-shaped, rounded, to 40 cm wide, stem attached to leaf underside (peltate), deeply lobed; a summer green herb, leaves last 18 weeks (Hicks and Chabot 1985); stems with 2 leaves bear flowers.
Flowers white with yellow center, 3-5 cm wide, anthers numerous; nodding below leaves, blooming May. Pollinated by bumble bees, Bombus pagans, B. impatiens, B. affinus , honeybees (Apis mellifera), (Apidae), halictid bees; Halictus sp., Lasioglossum coriaceum (Halictidae), and Andrenid bees, Andrena vicina (Andrenidae). Mayapple does not offer nectar but Bombus queens depend on pollen to raise new workers in spring and move from clone to clone, effectively pollinating flowers; Mayapple requires outcrossing (pollen from another colony) to set fruit which make honeybees ineffective, since they tend to stay within one colony (Borror and White 1970; Swanson and Sohmer 1976; Rust and Roth 1981).
Fruit yellow, fleshy, 4-5 cm wide, marginally edible, with occasional cathartic effects, seeds numerous, toxic, fruiting July- Aug. Adapted to dispersal by mammals (opossum, raccoon, skunk, fox) and turtles (Thompson 1980, 1981). Seeds dispersed by box turtles. Flesh attacked by some fruit-eating beetles and flies. Seeds probably eaten by cardinals, white-throated sparrows, white-footed mice and squirrels (Rust and Roth 1981). Dispersal to and establishment in new sites in successional forest contiguous to old regrowth stands has been calculated at a rate of 1.35 m/yr. (Matlack 1994).
Wetland status: FACU.
Frequency in NYC: Occasional.
Habitat: Moist, undisturbed woods, shade tolerant. Requires at least 0.5% sunlight in order to survive (compensation point), but cannot use more than 2.5% full sunlight (saturation point) (Hicks and Chabot 1985). Tolerates soil acidity down to pH 3.9 (Greller et al. 1990).
Notes: Occasionally infected by the bright orange rust fungus Puccinia podophylli, Basidiomycetes (Volk 1999; Agrios 1988).