Inside the Mayapple Colony

When our kids were very young, I would take them for walks in the big woods by our small house. They were naturally curious, loved to explore outdoors with Daddy, and didn’t mind getting dirty. In early May we would lie on our backs, tuck our heads under the little umbrellas of Mayapple leaves, and look through the ceiling of green to the blue sky.

Then we would turn over, flat on our bellies in the leaf litter, and squirm into this miniature magical world.

“Oh Daddy, what a view!” Aaron said. “I feel so big!”
Sarah said, “Let’s play pretend.”
And so they did.
*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    
Most days Daddy was working and finishing college, so my time with Aaron and Sarah was priceless.  I finished college long ago, and finished my teaching career recently.
Now retired, I have more time to explore, photograph, write and share. Share with you, so you may share with others. So I guess I am still teaching: from the outdoor classroom, through this blog, to people around the corner (Hi Cara), across Lake Michigan (Hi Emily), and people around the world (Hi Rosie). Thanks for being here.
Now let’s go on another “Walk With Father Nature”
we’ll learn together.
Our house is bigger now, surrounded by bigger woods. On the east slope various Oaks and Hickories grow, scattered with Black Cherry. Red Maples thrive on the lower ground next to the wetland, a canopy above this colony of Mayapples.
Mayapples prefer rich woods and damp, shady clearings. The first year, only a single lobed leaf rises from a perennial rhizome (root). Nearly circular colonies are produced from a single plant, spreading by these underground rhizomes. An average size clone is about 45 years old!
When the young Mayapple leaves first poke their tubular heads from the ground, they protrude through the leaf litter. This one got squeezed by some Red Maple leaves.
The would-be umbrella shape being pinched into a pinwheel.

Mayapple’s Genus and species is Podophyllum pelatum. Pod = foot, phyllum = leaf, so picture these podiums, in deep greens and leafy lobes.

Come back in a few weeks when we can see the open flower and learn more. Then again this summer to find the fruit… the May Apple, for which it’s named. Meanwhile, listen to this appealing description  from an old, but good, Wildflower textbook:
Solitary flowers
on stout peduncles
from the fork
between the leaves

This is what writers call “Found Poetry“! That’s one of the reasons why I love my Botany books.

I actually counted the lobes on several leaves. Most have seven. This one eight, in stylish symmetry.

The veins in these leaves are prominent.
Between each lobe, a deep sinus…                                                   …fringed with fine hairs.
I will leave you with this last look; for your imagination, for your own kids to squirm under, to enter into another world.
“Daddy, Aaron is hiding from us,” Sarah said. “Where can we find him?”
Sarah is still exploring with curiosity and appreciation in her world.
I know.
Aaron is enjoying endless opportunities for praise in his.
I believe.
Michigan Wildflowers (Helen Smith)
Helen V. Smith
Illustrated by Ruth Powell Brede
c 1961, 1966
Cranbrook Institute of Science
Bloomfield Hills, MI
(my copy – Christmas gift – 1974)
The Book of Forest and Thicket (John Eastman)
Trees, Shrubs and Wildflowers of Eastern North America
John Eastman
Illustrated by Amelia Hansen
c 1992 Stackpole Books
Mechanicsburg, PA

9 thoughts on “Inside the Mayapple Colony”

  1. Thanks for the great memories, Dad! You must have written it in your journal to access such details! It moved me to get a snapshot of Aaron, alive again, at such a wonderful age. We were both so blessed to have you and Mom for our parents. Thanks for raising us to love nature and all of God's creation.

    Love you!



  2. Sarah:

    You know I've always treasured our times together. You and Aaron made those early family years fun and memorable because of your enthusiasm for life. Mommy and I are also blessed, because we still feel your love for us.




  3. Richard,

    This is perhaps your most beautiful post to date. Full of rich emotion, memories, and those specific details I love so much. You know, I'm not sure if I've ever heard of a Mayapple tree until now, so — there you go teaching, again. Glad to be here learning!


  4. Emily:

    Coming from a Writing Teacher like you, I am honored to receive your generous comments. Did you see what our dear Sarah wrote? You would love her.

    P.S.Mayapple is a perennial, 12-16inches tall.




  5. Hello Richard

    You're teaching me too as we don't have these growing here in Scotland.

    You captured the beauty of the light through those leaves and I loved discovering alittle bit more about you and your family.


  6. We always looked for moral mushrooms under the Mayapples. I dont know who told us it was a good place to find them or if it is even true, but we did find some there.


  7. Rich:

    You have captured every aspect of the Mayapple's life. You must get dirty when you crawl on the ground to get these excellent shots. Thanks for the fun and fascinating learning experience.



  8. Mary:

    The knees and back get sore, and clothes get dirty, but my desire to capture good images of fascinating plants is strong. The closer I look, the longer I look; the more amazed I become. Give the glory to God for His awesome creation. And it all works!



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