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Himalayan may apple


closeup of Podophyllum emodi


Anyone who grew up in the Midwest knows the modest, nodding May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum) ubiquitous in the woods there.  I suspect that not one in twenty visitors to Denver Botanic Gardens ever notice its modest cousin that blooms for a week or two in mid May every year in Plantasia, Birds and Bees and in the Rock Alpine Garden. For me these modest little woodlanders are the essence of spring. I look forward to the delicate (and very dilatory) ballet they perform each spring, as sculptural and elegant as the sleek Moore sculptures nearby, and a good deal softer! The species that grows so well for us is technically Podophyllum emodi, or sometimes called P. pleianthum.

Botanic Gardens evolved from Medieval cloistered collections of culinary and medicinal herbs that we as humans have relied upon for our health and very sustenance. The botanic garden nowadays serves such a multitude of needs that we forget that these magical plants (that provide us with the oxygen we breathe, the carbohydrates that nourish our bodies and the beauty that nourishes our soul) also provide complex alkaloids that can help us in other crucial ways. Over the years I have occasionally had doctors call and ask to see this or that plant in our collections. I have led several doctors to this modest May Apple and one day I asked why did they want to see it? It turns out that this plant produces aryl tetrahydronapthalene, which has been used effectively to treat breast cancer. The doctor was just curious to see what the plant that manufactured this compound looked like "in the chlorophyll" as it were...

I have traversed a few bits of the Himalaya: from Pakistan in the West to Yunnan in the west, but I have not seen this or any of its many glamorous May Apple cousins that are becoming cult plants for those with woodland gardens. But I can take some personal satisfaction knowing I obtained seed and added this amazing plant to Denver Botanic Gardens where it has prospered for over twenty five years, and continues to delight a few of us (even if streams of visitors walk by and never even notice...)



Sheila from UK

I would definitly have stopped to have a good look had I been able to visit. I am one of the people you refer to...."many glamorous May Apple cousins that are becoming cult plants for those with woodland gardens." I love Podophyllum. Have tried P.emodi in the past without success. Will definitely have another go! Just yesterday I was crawling underneath Podophyllum versipelle to try and take a photo of the red flowers. How much easier to photograph P.emodi! Really interesting to know that it has medical uses to fight cancer. Thank you from South Wales. U.K.
Panayoti Kelaidis

What a treat to hear from South Wales! I photographed P. versipelle over a month ago at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Sonoma, California, where they obligingly have huge clumps planted in containers... We get lots of seed of P. emodi: let's swap! We have one sad little P. versipelle that must need company. You must live near the National Botanical Garden near Swansea? I saw it a year or so before it opened: very ambitious!

My mother and I purchased this plant last fall, I had never seen it for sale before. She already has a large patch of P. peltatum in her garden. Yesterday I checked on the P. emodi and was shocked to discover a group of about 10 seedlings at the base of the plant, as well as several reeds resembling round apple seeds. I have read that this plant is self-fertile, so it must have been fertilized at the nursery. I am quite sure we did not see it in bloom last season, it was purchased in June or later. I am curious if you have ever had this plant go to seed? The P. peltatum has never seeded for us.

that should have read 'several SEEDS resembling round apple seeds" ..d'oh..

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