May Apple, Podophyllum peltatum, aka American Mandrake and Ground Lemon, is common in the woodlands of southern Indiana, and is well represented in Dunn Woods. Last week they were just starting to poke their heads up, but this week they have fully popped out their full leaves. May apples typically have one or two large leaves. The two leaf versions produce flowers and eventually (in June) a fruit. They grow in colonies from a single rhizome, or rootstock. As an alternate name (American Mandrake) suggests, the plants are toxic, containing podophyllotoxin, which is used topically to remove warts, and has shown some promise as an anti-cancer and anti-viral agent, but don’t try this at home!
They produce a smooth lemon sized fruit that is edible in small quantities when fully ripe (they turn from green to yellow when ready). Some folks have a bad reaction to them, but I found them delicious, they are sweet/sour, and have the consistency of grapes. But they are very are to find when ripe, it seem the mammals in the woods get to them just as they turn yellow, it is a bit like trying to find a ripe paw paw, the animals know where and when to pick, and don’t leave much for humans!