(Podophyllum peltatum) Barberry family
FlowersWhite, 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 ft. high, from a long, running rootstock. Leaves : Of flowerless stems (from separate root-stock), 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 HabitatRich, moist woods.
DistributionQuebec 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 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 Gib-son, who had happy memories of his own youthful gorges on any-thing 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 Dr. Gray’s to be printed on every one of these big loaded pills, if that is what they are really made of.”