California Manroot

California Manroot Male Flowers © KKorbholz

Wild Cucumber
Marah fabacea
NATIVE – CA ENDEMIC

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

    • Eudicotyledon
      • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Gourd / Cucumber Family (Cucurbitaceae)
    • Perennial, herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine
    • Large leaves are palmately lobed (lobes radiating from a single point)
    • Grows from a large tuberous root
    • Flowers
      • Star-shaped, white to cream-colored flowers, with 5 fused petals
      • Separate male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious)
        • White male (staminate) flowers in a raceme (flowers attached on short, equal stalks to a central stem) or panicle (a many-branching, loose flower cluster)
        • Larger, solitary female flowers at the leaf axil (branching point)
      • Ovary inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit is a spherical, golf-ball-sized capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity) covered with straight prickles, containing 4 or more large seeds
    • Vine extends to 20 ft.

    Distribution

      • Native and endemic (limited) to California
        • Most widespread Marah species in California, found within the range of almost all other native manroot species
        • Grows in woodlands and chaparral with seasonally moist soil
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Grows at elevations to 5,250 ft.
      Male Flowers (L), Female Flower (LM), Fruit (RM), Seeds (R)
      © DSchiel / KKorbholz

      Uses (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • Native people had a variety of non-edible uses for manroot
          • Seeds, which contain soap-like saponins, were crushed and thrown in slow streams, immobilizing fish by blocking oxygen intake, thus making them easier to catch
          • Seeds also used for decoration or ground to make face paint/mascara
          • To prevent baldness, the Kashaya Pomo applied to the scalp a mixture of the pounded raw root, pounded California bay fruit, and skunk grease (Native American Ethnobotany)
        • CAUTION – all parts of plant are POISONOUS
          • The alternative common name, wild cucumber, may suggest a similarity to the familiar edible cucumber (Cucumis sativus); however, Marah fabacea is NOT EDIBLE
          • Liquid inside fruit is an eye irritant
          • Use caution if handling the dried fruit as spines may irritate the skin

        Name Derivation

          • Marah (Mar-ah) – from the Hebrew for “bitter,” likely a biblical reference to Marah, a place with undrinkable water visited by the Israelites during the Exodus; here, referring to the plant’s bitter taste
          • fabacea (fab-AY-see-a) – from the Latin for “broad bean”
          • Manroot – referring to the mature tuber, which can be as large as a man’s torso
          Tendrils © DSchiel

          Notes

            • Plant appears following winter rains, then dies back completely, becoming dormant during the dry summer and fall months
            • Long tendrils enable plant to climb/trail over vegetation
            • Once a tendril curls around a support, it forms a counter-clockwise helix and clockwise helix with a straight section between the two. If the tendril is pulled, more turns are added to both helices to better grasp the support (Perry 2012)
            • Mature tuber-like root is several ft. in diameter, weighing over 150 lbs., with swollen lobes and arm-like extensions
              • The root of a Marah macrocarpa, a related species, at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, weighed 467 lbs.
            • Pollinated by insects but can also self-pollinate
            • Nectar source for the green hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys rubi)
            • Internal pressure builds in the mature capsule, splitting and expelling seeds

            At Edgewood

              • Found in chaparral and woodlands
              • Flowers March – April

              See General References

              Specific References

                Perry, C. 2012, Aug. 30. Uncoiling the cucumber’s enigma. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University.

                  Sigg, J. 2012, Feb. 6. Cool as a Cucumber. Bay Nature.