BARBERRY FAMILY - Berberidaceae: May Apple; Hog Apple; Mandrake; Wild Lemon
Flowers--White, solitary, large, unpleasantly scented, nodding from the fork between a pair of terminal leaves. Calyx of 6 short-lived sepals; 6 to 9 rounded, flat petals; stamens as many as petals or (usually) twice as many; 1 pistil, with a thick stigma. Stem: 1 to 1-1/2 ft. high, from a long, running rootstock. Leaves: Of flowerless stems (from separate rootstock), solitary, on a long petiole from, base, nearly 1 ft. across, rounded, centrally peltate, umbrella fashion, 5 to 7 lobed, the lobes 2-cleft, dark above, light green below. Leaves of flowering stem 1 to 3, usually a pair, similar to others, but smaller. Fruit: A fleshy, yellowish, egg-shaped, many-seeded fruit about 2 in. long.
Preferred Habitat--Rich, moist woods.
Distribution--Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico, westward to Minnesota and Texas.
In giving this plant its abridged scientific name, Linnaeus seemed to see in its leaves a resemblance to a duck's foot (Anapodophyllum); but equally imaginative American children call them green umbrellas, and declare they unfurl only during April showers. In July, a sweetly mawkish many-seeded fruit, resembling a yellow egg-tomato, delights the uncritical palates of the little people, who should be warned, however, against putting any other part of this poisonous, drastic plant in their mouths. Physicians best know its uses. Dr. Asa Gray's statement about the harmless fruit "eaten by pigs and boys" aroused William Hamilton Gibson, who had happy memories of his own youthful gorges on anything edible that grew. "Think of it, boys!" he wrote; "and think of what else he says of it: 'Ovary ovoid, stigma sessile, undulate, seeds covering the lateral placenta each enclosed in an aril.' Now it may be safe for pigs and billygoats to tackle such a compound as that, but we boys all like to know what we are eating, and I cannot but feel that the public health officials of every township should require this formula of Doctor Gray's to be printed on every one of these big loaded pills, if that is what they are really made of."