Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

The other day while doing my regular garden walk, I noticed the fruit on my Himalayan Podophyllum had finally turned red. While the entire plant is quite poisonous the fruits WHEN RIPE are supposed to be edible.  Quite frankly I don’t know why anyone would eat a May Apple as the flavor didn’t do much for me at all. As soon as it touched my tounge I spat it out, it’s doubtful to be showing up on the cooking channel anytime soon.


While this plant is a little lack luster in late August, podophyllum hexandrum is a worthy garden ornamental, and looks spectacular emerging in spring. For more photos of this plant in it’s full beauty, search Google Images.

Being the complete plant nerd that I am I decided I’d try my hand at germinating some seeds. Furthermore research online tells me that this won’t be an easy process, but perhaps possible with a little preparation. Let’s give it a try.

First I picked the podophyllum fruit.

Ripped it apart (or bit it open, YUCK!)

Then continued to clean off the pulp in warm water with some paper towel. Beautiful scarlet red seeds!

From here we need to do a little research. It turns out Podophyllum hexandrum has been attracting some serious attention in the medical world for it’s potential cancer fighting podophyllotoxins. These chemicals are found in the  roots of the plant. Mix over-harvesting with dwindling natural habitats and the outcome is as predicted. Podophyllum hexandrum’s are becoming quite rare in their natural habitat, in fact, the plant is now considered endangered. Studies have shown that the Podophyllum hexandrum is a difficult plant to grow indeed, and mass scale grow ops of the plant have so far proven a failure. There is low germination from stored seed and the dormancy of these seeds seems inconsistent and hard to crack. They hypothesize that due to the plants having a highly specialized natural habitat, they’ve evolved to require that for proper reproduction. The plants grow at high altitudes and some speculate that this plays are role in successful germination.  P. hexandrum contains almost three times as much “active ingredient” as it’s relatives in North America, making this plant more then just a garden ornamental.

There are loads of scientific journals on the subject and I’ve done my best to take the best from them. Many studies suggested that giving the seeds a hot water treatment prior to sowing could help germination rates. So after cleaning up the seeds I put them in a glass of close to boiling water for 60-120 seconds, drained them, rolled them in some garden sulfur and sowed in 4″ pots filled with 2/3 soil 1/3 garden manure substrate. The seeds will take 3-6 months to germinate (if everything goes smoothly) and should poke out next spring.

Plant Science! Hopefully I’ll have a success story next spring, stay tuned!

10 Responses to Growing Podophyllum hexandrum ‘Himalayan May Apple’ From seed.

  • Brian says:

    This taxon has proven fully hardy here in northeastern Wisconsin (Z4b). I raised my original plants from seed, and have 2nd-generation plants from them. In the past, I stratified seeds in the refrigerator, but this time planted them in flats left outside under leaf mulch to see how they fare. It’s interesting that the leaves of non-flowering and flowering plants are so distinctly different.

  • showkat Ahmad says:

    I need podophyllum hexandrum seed for my farm for cultivation of this plant in my state can any body help me

  • Jennifer Barford says:

    P.H Has been growing happily in our garden for several years. Suspect birds dropped seeds. Last year another plant came thro in the same bed. I tried propogating by extracting seeds from the “Apple” but they shunned g-house treatment. Even my plantsperson friends had no idea what it was. However, this spring I found a slug-munched plastic tag from an annually reluctant but determined one-leaf P.H. look-like which I had purchased years ago at a plant fair at in Gibside. I thought it said Dodophyllum Hexandrum. Computer adjusted spelling to enlighten me.
    I think it likes crowded conditions, poor soil, overhanging trees and masses of moss. Our slugs, who form roaming legions galore, leave it alone.
    Thank you for boiling water suggestion. Shall persevere.

  • ANN A says:

    I have tried this seed from the walled garden at scampston were I work. I have found the best results are not to wash it. I figured naturally in the wild it would have the slimy jelly on for a reason so I left it on. I sowed in a peat mix with john innes no 2. I covered the seeds and left half in our prop house and half out over winter. This was to chance if they need stratifying over winter. I think every one inside germinated before winter and out has germinated as I now have hundreds of the little sow and sows! I did havest fresh seed as soon as ripe.

  • George Forsythe says:

    Nice article and great pictures. Truly lovely seed as stated.

    Haven’t had any of these seeds to try, but have been practicing with common P. peltatum seed. Keep your pots. Some seed kept popping up for me in the second and third years. I did not try the hot water treatment.

    I grow P. pleianthum and P. versipelia, but have trouble with fruit drop before ripening on them in my climate (zone 7 Pennsylvania)

  • Erica Iseminger says:

    Well, i did the hot water bath as suggested above late last August, put the seeds into a gallon pot and set it into a cold frame for the winter (Olympic Peninsual 300′ above sea level). This spring about 1/3 of the seeds sprouted and are growing. Going to give it another go with this years seed. (One mature plant-one fruit) More seeds may have germinated but the slugs really like the emerging growth..

  • Pat G says:

    I took home a pod of seeds from a garden yesterday with the intention of trying my hand at germinationg them. Any tips would be welcome. I thought the plant with its fruits was a scene stealer.

  • Calin in RO says:

    So, had any luck? Any pic with the seedlings?
    I’m gonna receive some seeds and I need to know if the nearly-boiling water helped.
    Where did you place the pots/containers?
    Out in cold freezing winter temps ???
    Inside?
    Greenhouse?
    Would be great for this story to have a “happy ending”.
    CALIN

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Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.