Stripe the Box Turtle here! In case we haven’t met before, I’m an education turtle and I work here in the park with Cornelius. He lent me his blog today because I wanted to share the story of my favorite wildflower with you! (Cornelius says hi, by the way! He’ll be back next month with a new blog.)
April showers bring May flowers, and the best of the May flowers is the mayapple! This plant prefers to grow in rich moist forests and forested floodplains with dappled shade. They are easy to spot because they look like small green umbrellas scattered across the forest floor. Here in the park, you can find them along the Millrace and Industrial Trails.
Mayapples spread by rhizomes (specialized underground stems that send up new shoots) to form large colonies. Young plants in their first year send up a single stalk and umbrella-shaped leaf. In their second year, they grow two leaves and produce one large white flower with a yellow center. The flower hangs under the leaves, so it’s easy to miss unless you are looking for it.
After the flower is pollinated by bumblebees, it matures into the round green or yellow fruit that gives the plant its name. This is where us box turtles come into the picture. We love mayapple fruits and will devour them when given the opportunity!
Scientists believe that box turtles are the main seed disperser for mayapples! Seeds that have passed through a turtle’s digestive tract are more likely to germinate, and the turtles help spread the seeds to new locations as they move around their territories. One quick note though – while turtles love mayapples, they aren’t really good for people to eat. It’s better to leave them for your turtle neighbors!
You should enjoy these plants while you can. After they finish producing fruit, the plants die back for the year. They don’t like very hot temperatures and bright sun, so they spend the rest of the year hidden as roots below the soil before emerging again in the spring. So the next time you stop to admire a nice mayapple blossom or bright green leafy umbrella, be sure to thank a box turtle!
Have an awesome day!