Saturday, May 14, 2016

Mayapple Fruit

The blooms have dropped off most of the Mayapples by now, leaving its fruit to grow.  While these apples can be hard to see below the parasol of the leaves, they are right at eye level for their most important consumer, the box turtle.
Box turtle eating road kill, usually a vegetarian - Brian Edmond
The Three-toed Box Turtle is a common creature seen almost year round in the Ozarks.  Humble and shy, it carries the impressive scientific name, Terrapene carolina triunguis.  While young turtles eat mostly insects and earthworms, adults eat primarily a variety of plants, berries, and mushrooms. They are known to consume poisonous mushrooms without harm and according to Pennsylvania State University humans eating the turtles subsequently have become violently ill.  OK, that may be poetic justice for eating a box turtle, but it reinforces a mantra in the mycological world - because an animal eats a mushroom doesn't mean it is safe for you.

   Feast for a turtle - Mark Bower
Mayapples are a food seemingly designed for box turtles.  They grow in dense mats, identical plants spreading by underground rhizomes.  The fleshy berry-like fruit hangs on a stalk, within reach of the stretching terrapin's neck.  All parts of the plant are poisonous except the fruit.  According to Illinoiswildflowers, "People can eat the ripe berries in limited amounts, even though they may be mildly toxic. The flavor is bland and resembles an overripe melon" 

Mayapples benefit from a partnership with box turtles.  They require transportation of their seeds to spread, something that the box turtle is good at if you aren't in any hurry.
"Mayapple seeds ingested by turtles have about a 38% germination rate, whereas undigested seeds only have an 8.5% success rate. Box turtles, which are the Mayapple’s main seed distributors, are able to reduce the thickness of the seed coat allowing germination to take place more easily." NEAQ
The toxin in Mayapples is podophyllotoxin, an active ingredient in compounds used to treat some types of warts.  In the past we used podophyllin to treat plantar warts on the soles of the feet.  I have never found these warts on box turtles, although they are hard to examine  Only the turtle knows.

Bright colored and looking for something other than food
This is mating season for box turtles whose colors intensify as an indicator of their passion.  They are crossing our roads is search of mates, so drive carefully.  If you feel the need to move one, always place it in the direction it is headed,  otherwise it will just turn around and head back across the road.

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