Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mayapple - Pink and Rusty

Mayapple rust- Mark Bower
Mayapples have been covering the forest floor for several weeks now.  I had never seen them in their first stage, emerging as a small straight column resembling an asparagus stalk.  Mark Bower, who works at ground level photographing mushrooms, sent me this sequence of photographs documenting their emergence from the warming soil.  He is extremely patient but I doubt he stayed there all that time waiting for the leaves to expand.

Mayapple flower bud
Viewed from above we see the familiar parasols but getting down on them we can see the buds open to reveal the white blossoms.  Sometimes we can even find a surprise!

Linda Ellis found a small patch of pink mayapples along Red Bridge Road.  Although the pink colored blossoms were new to me, it is a normal variant.  Nature is full of little surprises like this, rewarding those who get down low and look closely.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center describes mayapples below.
"Mayapple is unique in that it has only 2 leaves and 1 flower, which grows in the axil of the leaves. The large, twin, umbrella-like leaves of mayapple are showy and conspicuous. They remain closed as the stem lengthens, unfolding 6–8 inches across when the plant has reached its 1 to 1 1/2 ft. height. The solitary, nodding, white to rose-colored flower grows in the axil of the leaves and has 6–9 waxy white petals, with many stamens. The nodding fruit is a large, fleshy, lemon-shaped berry."
Infertile plants have one leaf at the tip of a stalk, with 6-9 lobes.  Fertile plants have two leaves with fewer lobes, branching from the stalk on long petioles as you see above.  We found an unusual variant, a single-leafed fertile specimen with the flower in bloom below.
Mayapple rust, top surface -  Mark Bower
Occasionally you may find a leaf with a depression on the surface, a dimpled blemish on an otherwise healthy leaf.  If you get down and turn it over you may be rewarded with a close up look at tiny orange cup depressions edged in gold.   Technically this is described as intraveinal chlorosis with aecia (cluster-cups), caused by a fungal pathogen, mayapple rust, Allodus podophylli.

Most rust fungi alternate host plants between years.  Cedar apple rust is typical, first causing the brown nodules on cedars, bursting into orange slimy fingers to disperse its spores to apple trees the next year.  Mayapple rust is the exception, sticking with a single plant host.
Mayapple rust - Mark Bower
While many might consider these ugly blemishes, they cause little harm and like Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, if you look closely, you can find their beauty.

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