Common Names

Higher Taxa
Geography and Natural History
The Great Mystery
Diphylleia cymosa Michx.

image used with permission of Dr. Gary J. Senn

Common Names
Umbrellaleaf, American umbrellaleaf

Who is Michx?
Andre Michaux was a French botanist who spent an extraordinary amount of time exploring the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. For a fantastic short biography, check out Charles Kuralt's tribute to Michaux.

Where did Michaux come up with this name?
'Di' means two in Latin and 'phyl' means leaves. The genus is simply a description of the leaf structure,
which consists of two leaves.
'Cymosa' is just another way of describing the inflorescence, which is usually a cyme.

Michaux first located D. cymosa in the mountains of North Carolina and described and drew it in his 1803 book, Flora Boreali-American. There are also different species of Diphylleia in China and Japan that were discovered later. He never had the opportunity to take part in the controversial placements of Diphylleia in a variety of families. It was placed in Diphylleiaceae (Schultz), Podophyllaceae (Tischler), and into a subclass of Berberidaceae - the Podophylloideae (Engler). In 1968, Cronquist placed the Podophylaceae into the Ranunculaceae, but in 1981, he returned it to the Berberidaceae where Diphylleia rests today (Ying et al. 1984).

Higher Taxa

(Walters and Keil 1996).
Check out the pollen of D. cymosa-->
Photo by J.K. Small, in Ying et al., 1984

(As described in Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas by Radford et al.)
Diphylleia cymosa Michx., which is native to North America, is a rhizomatous, perennial herb that ranges in height from 4-10 dm. The leaves are
peltate and reniform, 3-5 dm wide, and cleft or parted into 2 segments. The leaf margin is coarsely dentate. The leaf that is opposite the flower stalk will be the larger leaf.
The inflorescence is either cymose or umbellate.
The flower has a white corolla of 6 petals, along with 6 sepals and 6 stamens. The style is distinct.
The fruit is a dark blue berry, 8-12 mm in diameter. (Radford et al. 1968)
Interestingly, in both D. cymosa and Podophyllum peltatum L. (a relative also in the Berberidaceae), nonflowering plants have only one leaf (Duncan and Foote 1975).
To identify the plant using a dichotomous key, see the Radford text.
All images in the links of this section are from Walters & Keil 1996.
View an excellent drawing of D. cymosa that shows all of these characteristics.
Image is from Ying et al., 1984

The lectotype (a type specimen chosen from specimens seen and cited by the original author) is located at the Michaux herbarium. It is thought to have been collected by Michaux in the mountains of North Carolina about 1786. He published his findings in 1803 in Flora Boreali-Americana (Ying et al. 1984).

Geography and Natural History
D. cymosa grows in moist places in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests. It usually grows along stream banks and seepages at an altitude of 1000-1600m. It only grows in specific habitats, but since these are usually protected areas, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is not endangered except in Alabama (TVA Endangered and Threatened Plants website). It grows strictly in the Blue Ridge of the
southern Appalachian mountains (Ying et al. 1984)

Table I: North American Distribution of D. cymosa

Diphylleia cymosa

North America:
Continental United States; Canada
Yes Radford et al., 1968
Eastern North America:
United States east of Mississippi;
Ontario and eastern Canada
Yes Radford et al., 1968
Southeastern United States:
Yes Radford et al., 1968
Southern Appalachian States:
Yes Radford et al., 1968
Coastal Plain No Ying et al., 1984
Piedmont No Ying et al., 1984
Blue Ridge Mountains Yes Duncan & Kartesz 1981
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Yes Radford et al., 1968
Ridge and Valley No Duncan & Kartesz 1981
Cumberland Plateau No Duncan & Kartesz 1981
Georgia Yes Duncan & Kartesz 1981
Clarke County, Georgia No Duncan & Kartesz 1981
To see D. cymosa, go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or other Blue Ridge area in May or June, when it is flowering. Look for it near small streams and seepages at altitudes of 1000-1600m (Duncan & Foote 1975, Ying et al. 1984).

The Great Mystery of the Eastern Asian - Eastern North American Relationship
The only other species of Diphylleia occur on the other side of the earth in China and Japan. Read
this journal article to decide for yourself if the similarities between genus and habitat support the idea that the continents were once connected.

Duncan, Wilbur H. and Leonard E. Foote. 1975. Wildflowers of the Southeastern United States. The University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA.

Duncan, Wildbur H. and John T. Kartesz. 1981. Vascular Flora of Georgia. The University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA.

Radford, Albert E., Harry E. Ahles, and C. Ritchie Bell. 1968. Manual of Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC.

TVA: Endangered and Threatened Plants. URL=

Walters, Dirk R., and David J. Keil. 1996. Vascular Plant Taxonomy. Kendall /Hunt Publishing Company: Dubuque, IA.

Ying, Tsun-Shen, Susumu Terabayashi, and David E. Boufford. "A monograph of Diphylleia (Berberidaceae)." Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 65 (1984): 57-94.

Brian Glazer
Ecology Student
University of Georgia