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Easy to recognize by the large, umbrellalike leaves that occur singularly or in a pair, may-apples are unique late spring perennials. Plants with two leaves may produce singular, white flowers that are barely visible, nodding underneath the leaves between which they grow. The flowers are fragrant and have been described as either pleasant or putrid. May-apples perform well in naturalized areas, shade gardens, native gardens, and drought-tolerant gardens. This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region and current research.

  • Family (English) Barberry
  • Family (botanic) Berberidaceae
  • Tree or plant type Perennial
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Medium plant (12-24 inches)
  • Light exposure Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist
  • Tolerances Dry sites, Occasional drought
  • Season of interest late spring
  • Flower color and fragrance Fragrant, White
  • Shape or form Irregular, Upright
  • Growth rate Fast, Moderate
  • Wildlife Browsers, Game mammals, Insect pollinators

Size and method of spreading:

At maturity, may-apples are between 1 foot to 1 ½ feet tall and three-quarters to 1 foot wide. They spread by producing offsets from underground stem structures (rhizomes) and self-seeding. 

Native geographic location and habitat: (include C-value if appropriate)

The native range of may-apples includes the Eastern and Central United States. C- Value: 4.

Attracts birds or pollinators: 

Long-tongued bees, including bumblebees, are attracted to the flowers of may-apples. The fruit of may-apple may be eaten by animals such as raccoons, skunks, opossums, and box turtles when ripe. 

Leaf description:

May-apple leaves look a bit like little leaf umbrellas. Each plant has either one or two leaves. Before they unfurl, the leaf wraps around the growing stem, and becomes more horizontal as they spread out. They grow on the terminal ends of long, upright stalks. The leaves are 6 to 8 inches in diameter, attached to the stalk in the center (peltate), and round with five to nine shallowly to deeply divided lobes that are often cleft in two at the ends. The edges may have coarse teeth (dentate margins) with shallow clefts, and sometimes the teeth can be rounded (crenate margins). The edges can also be slightly wavy (undulate margins) or smooth (entire margins).

Flower description:

May-apple flowers grow in the axis between the two large leaves. A small, drooping stem (peduncle) attaches a singular flower between the leaves. A little green bud will appear, followed by a showy, nodding flower. The six leaflike green structures (sepals) that formed the bud will fall off as the flower opens. The flowers of may-apples are composed of six to nine white, waxy petals that surround 12 to 18 yellow and white pollen structures (stamen) and light yellow-green ovary in the center of the stamens (superior). Each flower is approximately 1 inch in diameter. 

Fruit description:

The fruit of may-apple look like little golden apples when ripe. They are approximately 1 ½ inches in diameter, fleshy, light green to yellow, and contain multiple seeds (berry). 

Plant Care:

May-apple foliage disappears in the summer when dormant. They thrive in rich, moist soils in shady areas. This is a strong colonizer, and may spread extensively in ideal conditions. 

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

May-apple is not susceptible to major pests or diseases. 

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