March flowers bring May Apples, along with a Taxonomic headache

We’ve been fascinated by mayapples of the genus Podophyllum, ever since first studying them in my NC backyard over 60 years ago. It was always a bit disappointing that they went dormant in late May, and often seem to be afflicted by several foliar diseases. It was not until three decades later (mid-1990s) that I was finally able to acquire our first of the Asian species. We would soon discover that these didn’t have the disease problems of our natives, nor did they romp the same in the garden, or go dormant in May. The hunt was on to collect all of the species and evaluate their performance in NC.

It turned out the majority of the Asian species thrive here, with the exception of some of the high elevation species, Podophyllum hexandrum, Podophyllum aurantiocaule, and Podophyllum delavayi. The next part of the learning process was to start making hybrids and see what species will hybridize. In the meantime, a taxonomic kerfluffle began, with the Chinese taxonomists claiming that their native mayapple species actually weren’t podophyllums, despite their similar outward appearances. As DNA testing continued to improve, it now appears that they were right, and their mayapples actually consist of two distinct genera in addition to the US native Podophyllum peltatum. One of the high elevation species, Podophyllum hexandrum was moved to the monotypic (all alone genetically) genus, Sinopodophyllum hexandrum. The rest of the Asian species became members of the genus Dysosma.

As is often the case, plant breeders love to cause taxonomists consternation by mixing up the genes. Before we knew the two genera would be separated, we, and others, made hybrids between the American and the Chinese species. These hybrids now move from being interspecific to intergeneric. We’ve coined the name x Dyphyllum for these hybrids between Podophyllum and Dysosma. What we also discovered is that when we grow the native Podophyllum with the Asian Dysosma, the normally disease free Asian plants become susceptible to the native foliar fungal pathogens. Below are both some species and hybrids that are looking good in the garden now.

Podophyllum peltatum ‘Maid Marion’ is our collection from Marion County, TX

Podophyllum peltatum ‘Maid Marion’

The flowers below are a of a clone of Podophyllum peltatum we collected in Morgan County, AL

Podophyllum peltatum Morgan Co. AL

We have only been effective crossing the Asian Dysosma pleiantha with our native Podophyllum peltatum. The cross only seems to work when Podophyllum peltatum is used at the maternal parent, and not when the parents are reversed. These were formerly known as Podophyllum x inexpectatum, before Dysosma was resurrected as a genus. Crosses between the two would now become x Dyphyllum x inexpectatum. The first successful cross with these parents was done by our friend, the late Jim McClements. Below is his cultivar, x Dyphyllum x inexpectatum ‘Ruby Ruth’.

x Dyphyllum x inexpectatum ‘Ruby Ruth’

Our attempt to duplicate Jim’s cross resulted in several hybrid seedlings, but all have flowers that are either white or blush pink in color.

x Dyphyllum x inexpectatum ‘White Tiger’
x Dyphyllum x inexpectatum ‘White Tiger’

The Asian species – now Dysosma

As mentioned earlier, most of the Asian mayapples thrive here, the exceptions being the high elevation species that have no heat tolerance. They include the white-flowered Dysosma aurantiocaulis, the beautifully-mottled Dysosma delavayi, and the former Podophyllum hexandrum, which has now been moved to yet another genus, Sinopodophyllum.

Dysosma boreale, often listed as D. versipellis ssp. boreale, is the tallest species we grow, topping out at 3′ tall. Although it has some of the smallest individual flowers of any species, it makes up by having up to 30 flowers per stalk, and by flowering all summer.

Dysosma boreale
Dysosma boreale, close up of flowers
Dysosma boreale

Dysosma difformis, along with the heat intolerant D. delavayi have the most stunning leaf patterns. I can’t imagine having a woodland garden without this. For us, it maxes out at 2′ in height.

Dysosma difformis

Dysosma hemsleyi is a rather rare species that wasn’t known in cultivation until just over a decade ago, and thought for years to be extinct.

Dysosma hemsleyi

Dysosma mairei has a unique flower compared to many of the other species. Many authorities lump this with the white-flowered D. auranticaule, but the two plants couldn’t be more different, in our humble opinion.

Dysosma mairei

Dysosma pleiantha is the most commonly grown of the Asian species in cultivation. It’s about 1/2 the height of D. boreale, but the flowers are much longer, and it only flowers once in spring.

Dysosma pleiantha
Dysosma pleiantha
Dysosma pleiantha

Dysosma versipellis ssp. versipellis is the true species, but we’ve never seen any nursery sell the correct plant. The foliage emerges with a lovely brown mottling. It emerges more than a month after Dysosma boreale (D. versipellis ssp. boreale), and looks and grows nothing like it.

Dysosma versipellis ssp. versipellis

As it ages, the brown mottling disappears long before flowering.

Dysosma versipellis ssp. versipellis ‘Green Star’

Asian Hybrids

The Asian species are self-sterile, so when they set seed, you can be assured it’s an outcross if other species grow nearby. We’ve added some hybrids this way as well as making intentional crosses. The earliest work with crossing these was done by the Terra Nova Nursery of Oregon, then Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne, also of Oregon, and Robin Callens of Belgium. Unfortunately for us, they used primarily heat intolerant parents, which make the hybrids ungrowable for those of us in hot summer climates. Below are few from our work for heat tolerance.

Dysosma x boreiformis ‘Standing Tall’ is our cross of Dysosma boreale x Dysosma difformis. This is the tallest of the Dysosma we grow, reaching north of 3.5′ in height, and like one of its parents, it flowers all summer.

Dysosma x boreiformis ‘Standing Tall’
Dysosma x boreiformis ‘Standing Tall’

Dysosma x delipelle has actually survived here, although it would be much larger in a cool summer climate. This is a cross of Dysosma delavayi and D. boreale. The only named cultivar seems to be Dysosma ‘Imperial Sunrise’

Dysosma x delipelle ‘Imperial Sunrise’

Dysosma x hemvayi is a cross of D. hemsleyi x delavayi, that first occured in the gardens of Heronswood, WA. Despite the lack of heat tolerance of the D. delavayi parent, the hybrid has performed beautifully here.

Dysosma x hemvayi
Dysosma x hemvayi

Our hybrids of Dysosma mairei with Dysosma pleiantha are D. x maireantha

D. x maireantha
D. x maireantha
D. x maireantha

When we cross D. pleiantha x D. boreale, we get Dysosma x plereale, which is intermediate between both parents. From a single cross, the diversity of flowers is amazing as you can see below. The large size comes from D. pleiantha, and smaller round flowers are from D. boreale.

Dysosma x plereale (pleiantha x boreale)

Below is one of many clones of Dysosma x plereale

Dysosma x plereale
Dysosma x plereale

Dysosma x plereale flower

Dysosma x boredom ‘Lily Pads’ is our first three-way hybrid of D. pleianthum, D. boreale, and D. difforme. The foliage is obscenely large.

Dysosma x boredom ‘Lily Pads’ (D. boreale x difformis x pleiantha)

For years, the industry standard for hybrids has been Dysosma ‘Spotty Dotty’ from Terra Nova. It originated as a cross between D. delavayi and an unknown hybrid. This remains an amazing garden plant, that thrives in our hot summer despite its D. delavayi genes.

Dysosma ‘Spotty Dotty’
Dysosma ‘Spotty Dotty’

The most exciting mayapple hybrids for warm climates will be coming from Ed Bowen of Issima Nursery in Rhode Island. Ed has been successful in creating colored foliage hybrids using heat tolerant genetics. His first release, Dysosma ‘Beast Mode’ has been amazing in our trials. We look forward to his future releases. We hope this gets you as excited as we are about these texturally amazing plants for the woodland garden.

Dysosma ‘Beast Mode’

3 thoughts on “March flowers bring May Apples, along with a Taxonomic headache”

  1. Have you tried any of the fungal susceptible Mayapples in the crevice garden? Would the sharp drainage mitigate fungal issues?

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