The woodland plant known as the mayapple is not an apple and blooms before May in our area. Another common “umbrella plant” is a less used but is a more accurate description. You can see this for yourself now in Forest Hill Park and other wooded parks in Richmond. The leaves unfurl just like an umbrella does when opened.
Mayapple spreads by rhizomes (underground stems that send out roots and shoots), forming colonies that may actually be one individual plant. These plants are unique in that they usually have only one leaf on the stalk. Occasionally the plant will send up a stalk with two leaves; this one is a fertile leaf which will flower and fruit.
The leaves, stems, roots, and flowers are poisonous, but were used by Native Americans and are still used in some herbal remedies today. (The taste must be pretty bad since deer don’t often browse these plants!) Within the last few years there has been an effort to produce chemotherapeutic drugs from the toxic chemicals this plant produces. So who uses this plant? Bees collect pollen and possibly get some nectar. The small fruit is edible when fully ripe and can be used for jams and jellies, however there is little fruit to be had in the small colonies that exist here today. Let’s leave that for the box turtles; they like the fruit!
This is where you can learn about the vast variety of plant and animal-life that makes Forest Hill Park its home.