Every year we have quite a few leaves but very rarely do we actually get a flower! So I was very excited the other day when I spied this from several feet away. I was actually having a fairly serious work discussion with the MMA’s Executive Director when quite frankly, I pretty much shushed him by throwing up my hand and saying “Wait! It’s a Mayapple!” Thoroughly confusing him of course because what the heck is a Mayapple? My son was also present and at age two is now into mimicking things he thinks sound fun so then he started yelling in two-year-old speak, “We have a Mayapple!” Of course, it typically flowers in May – thus its name – but on Nantucket that would be the beginning of June.
For those of you not familiar with what one is, here is some information on it from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Podophyllum peltatum
Podophyllum peltatum L.
Mayapple, Indian apple, Wild mandrake, Pomme de mai, Podophylle pelt
Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
Mayapple is unique in that It has only 2 leaves and 1 flower, which grows in the axil of the leaves. The large, twin, umbrella-like leaves of mayapple are showy and conspicuous. They remain closed as the stem lengthens, unfolding 6–8 inches across when the plant has reached its 1-1 1/2 ft. height. The solitary, nodding, white to rose-colored flower grows in the axil of the leaves and has 6–9 waxy white petals, with many stamens. The nodding fruit is a large, fleshy, lemon-shaped berry.
Mayapple colonizes by rhizomes, forming dense mats in damp, open woods. The common name refers to the May blooming of its apple-blossom-like flower. Although the leaves, roots, and seeds are poisonous if ingested in large quantities, the roots were used as a cathartic by Native Americans. The edible, ripe, golden-yellow fruits can be used in jellies. The alternate popular name Mandrake rightly belongs to an unrelated Old World plant with a similar root.

Treasure Trove!

Well, we have made it into the basement of the Wing to clean out the journal stacks. I would like to give a HUGE thank you to our Education interns who pulled and boxed and moved the journals from the outside walls of the Wing basement over the course of several afternoons this summer. I now have six interior shelves to complete (and I think the liquor stores are tired of seeing me!). These journals will all be carefully combed through (for ephemera, notes, and MMA related articles), assessed, and we will decide how to process them further – hopefully all this winter.

Nantucket Wildflower Box

But, as I was working near the stairs yesterday, I cleaned off the rest of a wooden shelf. Obviously, there is a little space behind this shelf under the stairs so I moved the shelf to check behind it for any things stashed away and lo and behold! I found what you are seeing in these images. When I saw the “Hinchman Nantucket Wildflowers” stamped on these small wooden boxes, my first thought was “First edition leftovers of the book!” (Published in 1921.) Then I thought, “No silly, too small a box for that.” I opened one and saw all these small, what I at first thought were glass slides. So I thought, glass slides or negatives of the flower drawings from the book! Then I saw how many boxes – it’s a deep dark space in there – and knowing the book has not that many images, I investigated further. What I uncovered was ALL of the original printing plates for the book! That means there are 400 plus steel plates for the printing press. Very exciting!

Open Nantucket Wildflower Box

Nantucket Wildflowers was written by (then) Alice O. Albertson and illustrated by Anne Hinchman. MMA saw to its publishing and the Knickerbocker Press, a part of G.P Putnam’s Sons printed it. Albertson was the MMA curator – back when all the departments were in the Mitchell House – from 1914 – 1931. She would marry Alfred Shurrocks (in 1929), a well-respected architect, who designed the fireproof Wing of the MMA Science Library in the 1930s. Mrs. Shurrocks was the granddaughter of Peleg Mitchell, uncle of Maria Mitchell. Mrs. Albertson also wrote Two Steps Down about her recollections of spending summers with her grandmother, Mary Mitchell (Peleg’s wife), at 1 Vestal Street. Anne, a talented artist, was her cousin and also a granddaughter of Mary and Peleg. All in the family, eh?

Nantucket Wildflower Boxes Stacked

I hope to, sometime soon, create a small exhibit in which something like these plates can be featured so stay tuned!