A foreign invader; it makes a fine hedge, but it is beginning to show up where it is not wanted. The tiny flowers probably go unnoticed most of the time, but they make a very pretty display close up. The long thorns and spoon-shaped leaves are distinctive. This one was blooming at the beginning of May on a wooded hillside in Mount Lebanon.
The National Park Service (in a “least wanted” posting) gives us this description:
Japanese barberry is a dense, deciduous, spiny shrub that grows 2 to 8 ft. high. The branches are brown, deeply grooved, somewhat zig-zag in form and bear a single very sharp spine at each node. The leaves are small (½ to 1 ½ inches long), oval to spatula-shaped, green, bluish-green, or dark reddish purple. Flowering occurs from mid-April to May in the northeastern U.S. Pale yellow flowers about ¼ in (0.6 cm) across hang in umbrella-shaped clusters of 2-4 flowers each along the length of the stem. The fruits are bright red berries about 1/3 in (1 cm) long that are borne on narrow stalks. They mature during late summer and fall and persist through the winter.
The fruit of the Mayapple or Mandrake is edible in small quantities, if you get it when it’s really ripe; otherwise the whole plant is poisonous, and even ripe fruits are toxic in large quantities. The best advice would probably be to enjoy the plant as one to look at rather than one to consume. Its distinctive umbrella-like leaves form large colonies in the spring woods. Stalks with only one leaf will not bloom, but a stalk that branches in a Y-shape into two leaves will grow a single fairly large flower in the crook of the Y. You have to lift the leaves or stoop down to see these flowers, but the effort is worth it. This plant was blooming in early May on a wooded hillside overlooking a stream in Mount Lebanon.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
PODOPHYLLUM L. MAY APPLE. MANDRAKE
Flower-bud with three green bractlets, which early fall away. Sepals 6, fugacious. Petals 6 or 9, obovate. Stamens twice as many as the petals in our species; anthers linear-oblong, not opening by uplifted valves. Ovary ovoid; stigma sessile, large, thick and undulate. Fruit a large fleshy berry. Seeds covering the very large lateral placenta, in many rows, each seed inclosed in a pulpy aril. Perennial herbs, with creeping root-stocks and thick fibrous roots. Stems 2-leaved, 1-flowered. (Name from pous, a foot, and phyllon, a leaf, probably referring to the stout petioles.)
P. peltatum L. Stamens 12-18; leaves 5-9-parted, the lobes oblong, rather wedge-shaped, somewhat lobed and toothed at the apex. Rich woods, w. Que. and w. N. E. to Minn., and southw. May. Flowerless stems terminated by a large round 7-9-lobed leaf, peltate in the middle, like an umbrella; flowering stems bearing two one-sided leaves, and a nodding white flower from the fork; fruit ovoid, 2.5-5 cm. long, ripe in July, sweet and slightly arid, edible.