History of the Naming of the MayApple

by Marion Lobstein

The story of the common and scientific names and classification of Mayapple has been one of many changes.  Many American Indian tribes used names that described the physical appearance or medicinal use of Mayapple. The Cherokee name for Mayapple was OO-NEE-SQUA-TOO-KEY (“it wears a hat”), and the Osage Indian name was CHE-SA-NE-PE-SHA (“it pains the bowels”).

In 1615, the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, was the first European to record observing Mayapple cultivated in Canada by the Huron Indians.  Some common French names include “ipécacuanha de la Caroline,” referring to the purgative properties of the plant.

In England, the use of Mayapple as a purgative led to the common name of American mandrake (the European mandrake, a different plant, was a commonly used purgative), and it is thought Nicholas Culpeper included American mandrake in his famous herbal of the late 1600s.

In 1700, the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort gave Mayapple the Latin name ofAnapodophyllum canadense morini with the genus meaning “duck’s foot leaf ”   In 1789, A.L. deJussieu  proposed the Barberry family (Berberidaceae), but placed Mayapple in the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).  Mark Catesby used the nameAnapodophyllum canadense in 1730 when he sent Mayapple specimens to Linnaeus. By 1753, Linnaeus had shortened the genus name from Anapodophyllumto Podophyllum and changed the species name (epithet) to peltatum but placed Mayapple in family that is now part of the Poppy family (Papveraceae).  In the 1762 Flora Virginica (second edition), Mayapple appears as Podophyllum foliis pellatis lobatis.  By the 1800s the American botanist Asa Gray in his famous Gray’s Manual of Botany had placed Mayapple in its present barberry family (Berberidaceae).  Recent DNA analysis has shown Mayapple to be properly placed in Berberidaceae.  It has been a long and changing road to the present classification of this special plant!

MAYAPPLE (Podophyllum peltatum) Plant Profile

 –Marion Blois Lobstein, Botany Chair, Prince William Wildflower Society, Assoc. Professor Biology at NVCC-Manassas Campus, Retired

[Illustrations: William P.C. Barton, Artist, New York Public Digital Gallery I.D. #1101751; Mourning dove and Mayapple, Mark Catesby, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands: Containing the Figures of Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, Insects and Plants (1754)]