( Originally Published 1922 )
May Apple; Hog Apple; Mandrake; Wild Lemon
Flowers-White, solitary, large, unpleasantly scented, nodding from the fork between a pair of terminal leaves. Calyx of 6 short-lived sepals; 6 to 9 rounded, flat petals; stamens as many as petals or (usually) twice as many; 1 pistil, with a thick stigma. Stem: 1 to 1 1/2 ft. high, from a long, running rootstock. Leaves: Of flowerless stems (from separate rootstock), solitary, on a long petiole from, base, nearly 1 ft. across, rounded, centrally peltate, umbrella fashion, 5 to 7 lobed, the lobes 2-cleft, dark above, light green below. Leaves of flowering stem 1 to 3, usually a pair, similar to others, but smaller. Fruit: A fleshy, yellowish, egg-shaped, many-seeded fruit about 2 in. long.
Preferred Habitat—Rich, moist woods.
Distribution—Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico, westward to Minnesota and Texas.
In giving this plant its abridged scientific name, Linnaeus seemed to see in its leaves a resemblance to a duck's foot (Anapodophyllum) ; but equally imaginative American children call them green umbrellas, and declare they unfurl only during April showers. In July, a sweetly mawkish many-seeded fruit, resembling a yellow egg-tomato, de-lights the uncritical palates of the little people, who should be warned, however, against putting any other part of this poisonous, drastic plant in their mouths. Physicians best know its uses. Dr. Asa Gray's statement about the harm-less fruit "eaten by pigs and boys" aroused William Hamilton Gibson, who had happy memories of his own youthful gorges on anything edible that grew. "Think of it, boys!" he wrote; "and think of what else he says of it: `Ovary ovoid, stigma sessile, undulate, seeds covering the lateral placenta each enclosed in an aril.' Now it may be safe for pigs and billygoats to tackle such a compound as that, but we boys all like to know what we are eating, and I cannot but feel that the public health officials of every township should require this formula of Doctor Gray's to be printed on every one of these big loaded pills, if that is what they are really made of."
Flowers—Yellow, small, odor disagreeable, 6-parted, borne in drooping, many-flowered racemes from the leaf axils along arching twigs. Stem: A much-branched, smooth, gray shrub, 5 to 8 ft. tall, armed with sharp spines. Leaves: From the 3-pronged spines (thorns) ; oval or obovate, bristly edged. Fruit: Oblong, scarlet, acid berries.
Preferred Habitat—Thickets, roadsides, dry or gravelly soil.
Distribution—Naturalized in New England and Middle states; less common in Canada and, the West. Europe and Asia.
When the twigs of barberry bushes arch with the weight of clusters of beautiful bright berries in September, every one must take notice of a shrub so decorative, which receives scant attention from us, however, when its insignificant little flowers are out.
In the barberry bushes, as in the gorse, when grown in dry, gravelly situations, we see many leaves and twigs modified into thorns to diminish the loss of water through evaporation by exposing too much leaf surface to the sun and air. That such spines protect the plants which bear them from the ravages of grazing cattle is, of course, an additional motive for their presence. Under cultivation, in well-watered garden soil—and how many charming varieties of barberries are cultivated—the thorny shrub loses much of its armor, putting forth many more leaves, in rosettes, along more numerous twigs, instead. Even the prickly pear cactus might become mild as a lamb were it to for-swear sandy deserts and live in marshes instead. Country people sometimes rob the birds of the acid berries to make preserves. The wood furnishes a yellow dye.