There are times when, as an avid collector, I see a special plant for the first time and feel a desire start to bubble up. I try desperately not to say out loud, “I must have this plant,” but inside I’m smitten with plant lust. This is exactly how I felt when I saw ‘Spotty Dotty’ mayapple. I have always been a sucker for big leaves, and this perennial mayapple did not disappoint.
The unusual angular, rounded leaves emerge from the ground in midspring appearing like waxy, closed umbrellas and then quickly open to about 8 to 12 inches wide and even a little larger in rich soil. As the leaves fully expand atop deep red stems, burgundy chocolate spots cover the pea green surface, leaving a vibrant milky green button in the center. The overall effect is stunning. The most intense coloring of the leaves is in spring, but the foliage is attractive through the entire growing season.
This dramatic plant holds one more surprise for those who are observant. Once the leaves are fully developed, a few of the most mature stems produce intriguing flowers hidden under their foliar canopy. The blooms are formed in small clusters and have deep red, strappy petaled blooms that dangle gracefully from their hidden perch. The flowers do not last long, so be sure to take a peek regularly in late spring to catch the show.
‘Spotty Dotty’ is easy to grow. It prefers bright open shade or dappled light. This robust perennial is a heavy feeder, so mix plenty of organic matter into the planting hole, and mulch in winter or early spring with a loose, rich compost. Like most mayapples, ‘Spotty Dotty’ grows best with regular watering during dry weather and will thrive in a moist woodland situation.
Once planted, it will take a few years to settle into its new location. Be patient, since you may not see much growth the first year; in the second year, however, you should see much larger leaves forming. In my experience, this plant will typically remain a lovely clump for three to five years; once it is well established, it will start to spread and become a colony stretching 6 to 8 feet across. If this is too wide, it is easy to dig up errant sprouts to share with friends.
Although ‘Spotty Dotty’ can be difficult to find, it is well worth the search. It is the perfect plant to add a little dramatic flair to the shade garden.
‘Spotty Dotty’ mayapple
Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’
Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil
Native range: China, Japan
Richie Steffen is a contributing editor and the executive director of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle.