Odd-looking yet striking plants, these herbaceous barberry (Berberis) relatives grow from thick underground rhizomes that send up stalks crowned with large, shield-shaped, deeply lobed leaves. Shoots with a single leaf are barren; those with two leaves bear a single, 2 inches-wide flower (set between the leaves) in mid- to late spring. Blossoms are followed by juicy, 2 inches berries; these are edible when fully ripe (poisonous until that stage) but can have a powerful laxative effect. Make attractive, slowly spreading deciduous ground covers for shady areas with rich, moist, woodsy soil.
- From Himalayas, western China.
- To 11 feet tall and wide.
- Dark green, brown-mottled leaves to 10 inches wide are divided into three or five lobes; each lobe is further divided.
- White or pink flowers are followed by bright red berries.
mayapple, wild mandrake
- From eastern North America.
- To 11 feet high, 1 feet wide.
- New growth pushing up through leaf litter is one of the earliest signs of spring in woodlands.
- Foliage is bronze when new; mature leaves are shiny dark green, to 1 feet wide, divided into five to nine lobes.
- White flowers are followed by bright yellow berries.
- Spreads fairly fast in its preferred rich, moist soil.
- Dies back completely in late summer.
- Kaleidoscope, of hybrid origin, has octagonal leaves dramatically marked with creamy silver and bronze.
podophyllum pleianthum (Dysoma pleiantha)
- From central and southeastern China and Taiwan.
- To 12 feet high, 1 feet wide.
- Large (1216 inches wide), glossy green, umbrella- like leaves divided into shallow lobes.
- Clusters of unusual-smelling, bell-shaped, maroon flowers appear in spring but are mostly concealed by the leaves.
- Yellow or red fruit follows blossoms.
- Looks good until the first frost in fall.
- From China.
- Large, glossy, green, lobed leaves are up to 18 inches wide and can reach up to 3 feet high.
- Clusters of deep maroon, meaty-smelling flowers are followed by bright red, berrylike fruit.
- Stays attractive until the first frost.
- Spotty Dotty is lower growing, has light green leaves marked with chocolate-brown spots.