Saturday, April 28, 2012

Inside the Mayapple Colony

When our kids were very young, I would take them for walks in the big woods by our small house. They were naturally curious, loved to explore outdoors with Daddy, and didn't mind getting dirty. In early May we would lie on our backs, tuck our heads under the little umbrellas of Mayapple leaves, and look through the ceiling of green to the blue sky.


Then we would turn over, flat on our bellies in the leaf litter, and squirm into this miniature magical world.


"Oh Daddy, what a view!" Aaron said. "I feel so big!"

Sarah said, "Let's play pretend."

And so they did.


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Most days Daddy was working and finishing college, so my time with Aaron and Sarah was priceless.  I finished college long ago, and finished my teaching career recently.

Now retired, I have more time to explore, photograph, write and share. Share with you, so you may share with others. So I guess I am still teaching: from the outdoor classroom, through this blog, to people around the corner (Hi Cara), across Lake Michigan (Hi Emily), and people around the world (Hi Rosie). Thanks for being here.

Now let's go on another "Walk With Father Nature"...
we'll learn together.

Our house is bigger now, surrounded by bigger woods. On the east slope various Oaks and Hickories grow, scattered with Black Cherry. Red Maples thrive on the lower ground next to the wetland, a canopy above this colony of Mayapples.

 

Mayapples prefer rich woods and damp, shady clearings. The first year, only a single lobed leaf rises from a perennial rhizome (root). Nearly circular colonies are produced from a single plant, spreading by these underground rhizomes. An average size clone is about 45 years old!

When the young Mayapple leaves first poke their tubular heads from the ground, they protrude through the leaf litter. This one got squeezed by some Red Maple leaves.


The would-be umbrella shape being pinched into a pinwheel.



Mayapple's Genus and species is Podophyllum pelatum. Pod = foot, phyllum = leaf, so picture these podiums, in deep greens and leafy lobes.


Come back in a few weeks when we can see the open flower and learn more. Then again this summer to find the fruit... the May Apple, for which it's named. Meanwhile, listen to this appealing description  from an old, but good, Wildflower textbook:



Solitary flowers
drooping
on stout peduncles
from the fork
between the leaves



This is what writers call "Found Poetry"! That's one of the reasons why I love my Botany books.




I actually counted the lobes on several leaves. Most have seven. This one eight, in stylish symmetry.



The veins in these leaves are prominent.










Between each lobe, a deep sinus...                                                   ...fringed with fine hairs.


I will leave you with this last look; for your imagination, for your own kids to squirm under, to enter into another world.

"Daddy, Aaron is hiding from us," Sarah said. "Where can we find him?"



Sarah is still exploring with curiosity and appreciation in her world.
I know.

Aaron is enjoying endless opportunities for praise in his.
I believe.


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References

Michigan Wildflowers (Helen Smith)
Helen V. Smith
Illustrated by Ruth Powell Brede
c 1961, 1966
Cranbrook Institute of Science
Bloomfield Hills, MI
(my copy - Christmas gift - 1974)

The Book of Forest and Thicket (John Eastman)
Trees, Shrubs and Wildflowers of Eastern North America
John Eastman
Illustrated by Amelia Hansen
c 1992 Stackpole Books
Mechanicsburg, PA