What Happens to Mayapple Tops

by Carl Strang

In recent winters I have been sharing photos of plants in that season. The featured species have been only a sample of those growing at Mayslake Forest Preserve, however, and I have begun to look at some of the ones that disappear before winter’s arrival. One example is the mayapple.

A mayapple plant in bloom

A mayapple plant in bloom

This colonial plant flowers in spring and produces fruits in late spring that are consumed by raccoons and other mammals which then disperse the seeds. In a wet year the leaves may then show signs of the mayapple rust, Puccinia podophylli.

The rust produces yellow spots on the leaves.

The rust produces yellow spots on the leaves.

By early July the leaves, especially well shaded ones, are beginning to senesce.

Leaves with browning edges

Leaves with browning edges

In early August some green leaves still may be found, but many have dried.

This stalk has one dried leaf, one largely green on August 5.

This stalk has one dried leaf, one largely green on August 5.

By early October, all the mayapple tops are reduced to dried stalks lying flat on the ground.

Parts of three mayapple stalks are in this photo. The leaf blades are gone. The stalks are yellowish brown and grooved.

Parts of three mayapple stalks are in this photo. The leaf blades are gone. The stalks are yellowish brown and grooved.

By winter, one would be hard pressed to recognize any trace of this plant in the leaf litter. The roots are ready, though, to send up new shoots when spring rolls around again.

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