There are times when, as an avid collector, I see a particular plant for the first time and feel a desire begin to bubble up. I try really hard not to say out loud, “I must have this plant,” but deep inside I’m lusting after the plant. That’s exactly how I felt when I saw the ‘Spotty Dotty’ mayapple. I’ve always been a fan of big leaves, and this perennial mayapple did not disappoint.
The unusual angular, rounded leaves emerge from the ground in mid-spring as waxy, closed umbels and soon grow to about 8 to 12 inches wide and somewhat 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 wonderful. Foliage is most intense in spring, but foliage color is attractive throughout the growing season.
This dramatic plant is another surprise for the observant. Once the leaves are fully developed, a few of the most mature stems produce interesting flowers hidden beneath their leaf canopy. The flowers are borne in small clusters and have deep red, strappy petals that hang gracefully from their hidden perch. The flowers don’t last long, so be sure to check back 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 with a loose, rich compost in winter or early spring. Like most maples, ‘Spotty Dotty’ grows best with regular watering during the dry season and thrives in moist forest conditions.
Once planted, it will take a few years to settle into its new location. Be patient, because you may not see much growth in the first year. In the second year, however, you should see much larger leaves forming. In my experience, this plant will usually remain a beautiful clump for three to five years. Once it is well established, it will begin to spread and form a 6- to 8-foot-wide colony. If it’s too wide, it’s easy to dig up the wrong sprouts to share with friends.
Although ‘Spotty Dotty’ can be hard to find, it is well worth the search. It’s the perfect plant to add a bit of drama to a shade garden.
‘Spotty Dotty’ mayapple
Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dottie’
Conditions: partial to full shade; Moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil
Local Range: China, Japan
Richie Stephen is Associate Editor and Executive Director of the Elizabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle.