Missouri's unusual fruits

Mayapple covered in snow

Some unusual fruits are found growing throughout Missouri.  For example: the mayapple, Osage orange, and the pawpaw. Be careful, as they are not all edible.  But they are all interesting to observe, whether or not you decide to add them to your garden.

The mayapple is also known as an American mandrake, hogapple, Indian apple, umbrella plant, wild lemon, and devilís apple. The fruit, a fleshy berry, is hidden under the two large leaves. The rhizome has been used for herbal uses by American Indians. They shared their uses of this fruit with early settlers to the Great Plains, including Missouri.  Parts of the plant are poisonous.

Uncommon fruits for every garden
by Lee Reich ; illustrations by Vicki Herzfeld Arlein.
Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2004.
Reich's interest in the history of food, as well as his knowledge of cultivation, make this volume both interesting to read and practical. The earliest descriptions and uses of each fruit are incorporated into detailed discussion of their cultivation, propagation, and maintenance. Juneberry, beach plum, alpine and musk strawberries, pawpaw, raisin tree, lingonberry, and Nanking cherry are some of the fruits described. Annotation #169;2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Uncommon fruits worthy of attention : a gardener's guide
Lee Reich ; illustrations by Vicki Herzfeld Arlein.
Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley, c1991.
Includes index.

The Osage orange was introduced to the St. Louis area by Jean Pierre Chouteau.  It's named for the Osage Indians who used the strong wood for making bows. The Osage orange fruit is round, bumpy, and about 3 to 6 inches in diameter. In the Fall, the Osage orange turns a bright yellow-green. It has a faint odor similar to that of oranges. Thus, itís name Osage orange. People enjoy using them in fall arrangements, but stay away from eating from them.

Some fruit plants contain poisonous parts that pose a serious risk of illness, injury, or death to humans or animals.

The whole mayapple plant is poisonous, except for the edible fully ripe fruit.

Be aware of the milky sap from the Osage orange, it can be poisonous.

Pawpaw fruits can cause an allergic reaction by eating or touching them.

The pawpaw is a small tree with a fleshy fruit that looks like a banana.  Two of its common names are Prairie banana and Missouri Banana.  Missouri's wild animals such as opossum, mice, raccoon, and robin can be seen enjoying its fruit.  They are not the only ones:  while the fruit can cause a reaction in some people, others enjoy its banana-like taste and custard-like texture.

Travel to any county in Missouri and you will see some of the unusual fruits that call our State home.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff