Wild Cucumbers - Cucamonga manroot
Marah macrocarpus (Greene) Greene var. macrocarpus

REFERENCE INFORMATION


April 6, 2005 - I'll tell you about the picture attachments.
First couple are of my daughter and the fruits. I sent one into the enquirer with the suggested tag line "Satanic Fruit takes over San Diego". Desperate measures as I'm stymied by the general flatline in the big San Diego media consciousness regarding the newsworthiness of this story (I'll elaborate later).


a shot of a harvest on my patio table

The other pictures
- One with three burst fruit side by side - here's the odd part. Usually there are four chambers with seeds (approx. 16). Well I've been finding a few of them with six chambers (approx. 18 seeds) and there's one with 8 chambers which actually had 32 seeds!). I also include a shot of the 8 chambered Marah alone.
 


single fruit measured


same fruit sliced open


close up of the 2
seeder which has an
aloe type gel in it.


one fruit has the sixteen seed set up, the other only 2


three small fruit


three fruit sliced open


 


- I have two shots showing the same five fruit on a vine with two of them burst in the second shot (before and after). I plan to go back and get another shot with the gourds dried out - don't know if I'll make it. Maybe.


There's a shot with some of the vines and a "Camel Wide" cigarette in the midst of them for comparison. I don't think you smoke but a "Camel Wide" is much thicker than a regular king size smoke. Point is that these were a few of the vines under the bush that was covered with the leaves and fruit. They were going back and forth and criss-crossing, absolutely stunning, amazing - thing is, one of those vines, the bottom one, is half-inch thick.

 

 

 

 

 

(a note- that's what makes this year with the rain so different and will prove to be a pivotal "tipping point", like with Kudzu. These are an amazing network of canals laid under the host plant that would require the host plant to be droughted to death before the vines would die - my opinion. Am only smart - not credentialed :-))
 

I figure there's enough beauty shots, but I've got some great ones of mega clusters. I've been finding a lot. I have a friend lives in Poway not far from the 7-11 that's a spell after the Henry's. I do music recording there some times. So is Wild Cucumber all over Poway too? I mean, can you spot it in areas as you drive along?
I don't have stills but I shot video today from like Encinitas down along the 5 and then over by the 52 and on Montezuma Rd and Fairmount Rd, and the south side of the 8 . . .

If there would be just one more two day spell of rain in the next two weeks, I think this growth would go cablooey!

(My obsession might be explained by the fact that I've been a stay at home dad for the last 3 months - but I think there's more to it).

In fact I spotted a plant up a private drive in Bonita near my daughter's Montessori. I left the guy a note in his mail box that I'd like to photograph his plant. He called me that night, said he just sprayed it with "Round up" but, sure, I could go by.

He actually only sprayed a part he had cleared for landscaping with Round up. The huge vines were right next door. I'm sure, in my heart, that it's coming from the same taproot. Anyhow, told him about the fruit and seeds. Explained how huge the root is. Told him the growth was extreme cause of the rain. Then I offered him to harvest the fruit in that sector and clear the vines in exchange for allowing me to try and find the taproot.

So I'm almost done pulling the stuff and hopefully next week I can start on the manroot hunt.
I'm too excited but, man, that would awesome if I could find the root and just clear it out like an archeologist and get a beautiful shot of it.

Anyway . . . . I ramble too much at this juncture. I've got all kinds of neurons firing on this. I'm harvesting the loofa from the blown ones. Have tried them. They work great. Have tasted the fruit in various aspects and have figured out that the meat of the seed is actually mildly sweet if you take off the little seed coat- otherwise you can tell that it's "poisonous" by how bitter it tastes.

Called poison control first, however, and they have no recorded cases of wild cucumber poisoning, neither of people nor animals.

Christorpher Nyerges who wrote a book on Wild Plants and Edible Nature has the only written entry I've seen. He says he boiled part of the root for over an hour and it was still too bitter to eat.
But that's the thing. I don't think it's "food". I think it is "medicine". And medicine is almost always poison unless you know how to do it.

I boiled five fruit then took that water sample and some original water to my local PetSmart- Everything stayed the same except the acidity. My boiled water, she said, would kill any fish in it in a second. Explains the "stunned fish" poison that the indigenous people used.

Well . . . .I think I'd better get out while I'm ahead. Kids are still asleep.

Brian

 

I was googling a bit more about Marah Macrocarpus and it was so cool to see your site providing current sightings.
 
My name is Brian Taraz and I live in Chula Vista. I'm not an outdoors guy but I was hiking with my daughter when I saw the fruit a couple of weeks ago. Had never seen it before. I wrote a story about it and it's in the current San Diego Reader (shoes on the cover). I guess you could read the article on line at http://www.sandiegoreader.com/ in the City Lights sections. The article is called "Bitter Fruit Surprise".
 
Anyhoo . . .  I've become a little obsessed with this plant and I think your "heads up" on it is very accurate. Normally I think it's a fairly benign creature, but due to the rains it's all over San Diego and not just on the trails. The entire Mission Hills that you see on the south side of the I-8 is covered in it, if you go up Montezuma to SDSU or branch off to Fairmont the hills are a virtual cascade of the plant, Traveling down I-5 its in the canyon nooks from Carlsbad down getting thicker from Del Mar South, along the south hills that are by the 52 and Marion Bear State Park, at the base of Mount Soledad . . .  and throughout Chula Vista as I mentioned.
 
I mention this because, as part of my obsession, I came across a person with a Marah problem on his property. He used some "Round up" in a section he had cleared for landscaping. I explained it has a huge root and that the huge vines that were directly adjacent to the space with a ton of fruit on them need to have the fruits harvested and the vines pulled off if he really wanted to stand a chance.  We negotiated a little and in exchange for clearing the fruit and vines in this one area he is going to allow me to dig around and try and find the actual taproot. I'm pretty excited about this.
 
What I'm wondering is if you've heard from anyone else beside that botanist that has more familiarity with the fruit and the seeds. There are no documented cases of death from this plant, and Christopher Nyerges- the outdoor guy - says in his book that he tried some of the root after boiling it extensively but it was too bitter.
 
I think this years growth, by the way, will not prove to be benign at all. This plant I'm clearing has laid an amazing network of quarter inch think canal-type vines along the ground within the plant it has overgrown, which it subsequently covers with leaves and the unseen payload dangling under the canvas. I cannot believe that there has ever been this much fruit in San Diego since the city was this developed. Furthermore, those vines will take a decade long drought to dry up and go away so, next year when it rains it'll only take half as much rain (In my unscientific opinion) to promote twice as much growth as that which is currently out there.
 
The odd thing is that the local media, aside from the Reader, doesn't seem to "get" that, at the very least, this is a "news" item - Like the desert blooming. 10 out of 10 normal, mall going suburbanites to whom I've shown the fruit have never scene it and are stymied.
 
Anyhow . . . pardon this disconnected ramble. It was nice to see your info.
If you know of any sites or folks with an interest in this, in particular traditional medicinal uses, I'd love to know.
 
I'd be happy to send you some pics. I'm sure you have enough stuff on your hardrive though.
 
Peace,
Take care.
Brian Taraz

SanDiegoReader.com

Bitter Fruit Surprise
By Brian Taraz

I went for a trail walk with my daughter, Nazareth, on Thursday, March 10, in the Rice Canyon preserve west of Southwestern College. I noticed green vines overgrowing some of the traditional bushes and trees. I looked more closely and saw what turned out to be the spiked, kiwi-green, lemon-sized fruit of the manroot plant. I picked three of them to take home with me.

At home I cut one of the fruits in half, careful not to stick myself with the hard, cactuslike spikes. There were white seeds about the size of hazelnuts embedded in a white, coconutlike, yet spongy meat. The juice that came out was clear.

I tasted a little of the juice. I immediately had to spit it out because it seemed to burn my tongue and was extremely bitter. I tried using Google's image-finding search, typing in descriptors like "spiky green fruit" and "poison vine fruit green." I only found one picture, which called it "ivy fruit."

I stopped by some supermarkets, but no one was familiar with the fruits. One gentleman in the vitamin section of Henry's said he'd seen that fruit and was going to try contacting Walter Andersen's Nursery. I spoke with "Dave," gave him the description, and he called back ten minutes later with the manroot and wild cucumber names, which yielded more meaningful Google information.

I found out a few things: that the species was better known in Northern California and that it was considered poisonous; that native tribes had used some parts as fish poison; possibly to cure kidney problems and rheumatism; and as a scalp treatment for thinning hair. (The hair treatment part appealed to me.) Scientific name is Marah fabaceus.

The reason for the manroot name is that the plant is a tuber and gets to be the size, and sometimes the shape, of a man. (I couldn't find pictures of this on the Web.) The information that spurred me on was that the root can lie dormant for decades and rain at the right time triggers its growth. One website mentioned that you can almost see it grow in a heavy rainy season. It grows fast and early, pre-spring, and then dies off and back when it gets hot and dry.

This has been the third-rainiest season for this area in the past 150 years. So why wouldn't this plant, which is such a water-sucking Cucurbicae (part of the cucumber family), enjoy its biggest coming-out party in over a century?

I ask the wife if she knows where our Olympus digital camera is. We can't seem to find it.

I call Fernando -- my lifelong bud and one of the head aquarists at Stephen Birch Aquarium (coral is his specialty). He's got two kids, so I ask him if he wants to come down Saturday morning to Chula and bring his camera and kids and do a little nature hike/scouting mission.

Friday night I take my daughter's clear-plastic Lego carrying case with two of my specimens to rehearsals of The Trial to show some of the actors. We'd been sharing anecdotes about wacky stuff, so I thought I'd share my poison-fruit taste test. I can tell from Todd and Matt's responses that they were more concerned about what lies within my psyche and wondered how I could have looked at such a fruit and tasted it.

Saturday morning I do more Google searching. There is a Marah oreganus up in the Northwest and over east a bit. But the description is so tame compared to my little babies. "Prickly," as one search describes the fruit, hardly covers it.

Noon Saturday. I called my brother. He's got two boys, and they're up for it. We get to Rice Canyon preserve. The entrance is the one by Discovery Park off Camino Del Rey. I've brought a five-gallon bucket, gloves, binoculars, scissors, and a spray-bottle of water, plus string cheese, rainbow Goldfish, and bottled water for the kids.

My brother is starting to see what I'm trying to show. Million-dollar houses line the rim of this piece of canyon, and in their back yards, tens of thousands of terrorist fruits with millions of seeds.

Our species, which is actually Marah macrocarpus (meaning "bitter big fruit"), was classified in 1910 by one E. Greene. It's indigenous to this area.

Now, this plant, which is not endangered and which is considered a "pest" but is not parasitic and causes no documented problem for competing flora, has had no meaningful expression of its existence in this region such that it would be considered a "factor" to city planning.

And yet: one single vine, encompassing one single tree, in this small part of a vast "open-space preserve," had at least 50 visible fruit, all hearty, fat, and ripe. Each fruit has approximately 16 seeds, which have no choice but to fall if the fruit isn't harvested. I'm not a botanist or scientist, but that's, like, 800 seeds that will either drop or be carried away.

According to a Chula Vista planner, the castor plant, which is also from the area, is used to derive ricin, a poison, and that plant isn't eradicated. The logic is, if you try to eradicate one, you'd have to justify eradicating others. I guess that buys me time. I know that underneath that angry, spiked beauty, there's a little treasure hiding for the right explorer.

My brother, Fern, and I take the kids out to eat after our outing. They had a great time catching insects while running around and screaming. And as I look at them all, happy little boogers, I can't help but smile; I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna be that explorer. But maybe I'll call Poison Control first, just in case.


Letters to the Editor

April 7, 2005
Canyon Friends

Brian Taraz's entertaining article about the wild cucumber in Rice Canyon was right on ("Bitter Fruit Surprise," "City Lights," March 31). The growth of this plant has been explosive this spring, much more than I have seen previously.

As a frequent walker in Rice Canyon, I can tell you that other species have also been rampant this year, such as white shooting stars and the beautiful blue-eyed grass. It is an awesome ecosystem, with species ranging from crayfish and minnows in the creek to rattlesnakes, red-tailed hawks, and even the endangered California gnatcatcher. The ubiquitous and, yes, wily coyotes are also an important part of this ecosystem.

San Diego has many "Friends of the Canyon" groups, but to my knowledge Chula Vista has only one -- Friends of Rice Canyon. Like people, all canyons need friends. We work with the City of Chula Vista to remove alien vegetation, keep the dog-poop-bag dispensers stocked, and distribute plant guides. In the future we will plant native species. We get a huge kick out of enjoying the canyon, whether we hike, bike, or ride horses there.

Anyone wanting to become a Friend of Rice Canyon can contact Betsy Cory at bcory@ix.netcom.com. To form a new canyon group in Chula Vista or anywhere in San Diego County, contact Eric Bowlby of the Sierra Club (phone 619-284- 9399; e-mail savewetlands@ compuserve.com; website sandiego.sierraclub.org/ canyons). He will help tremendously with publicity, advice, and hands-on assistance to get you started.

Canyons for all of us, forever!
Betsy Cory
Chula Vista



 


 
March 26, 2005 - I received an email from botanist Ron Clark - Humboldt County, California
"My name is Ron Clark, and I am a botanist in Humboldt county, but I have a  great deal of experience with the flora of southern California. I appreciate your efforts to inform people about Marah, but I wish to make some suggestions for revision.

"People often consider Marah to be a  NOXIOUS WEED! When they first encounter it, but the fact is that the plant  is native, and an important part of forest ecosystems from Washington to  Baja.  I feel that when a person sees your efforts to remove the Marah  from your property it reinforces this incorrect stereotype, and makes the  reader believe that Marah has very adverse effects on plants around it, which it does not.

Removal of the Marah from your property can have a detrimental effect on native gramivores (seed eating animals) that eat  the large seeds. It should also be known that Marah is highly  poisonous to people. I hope you will consider these ideas, and you  may contact me if you want anymore advice."

 

At my request he followed up with more information on April 1, 2005....

Ron Clark: "I believe that in your haste to prove an answer for the mortality of the laurel sumac (Melosma lauriana), and mesquite (Prosopsis sp.) you may have overlooked other likely explanations to their mortality such as the fact that from about 2001 to 2004 southern California experienced the WORST draught in its recorded history, and  over the last two summers I have watched many Melosma bushes die because although they are highly drought adapted plants they contain more water in their stems, and foliage than any other dominant chaparral shrub I have studied.  Once trees or shrubs have been stressed by drought it leaves them highly vulnerable disease infection, or infestation by tree eating beetles as we saw in the San Bernardino mountains.

  It should also be noted that Marah, Melsoma, and Prosopsis have all co-evolved there over several thousands of years, and I do not believe that it stands to reason that laurel, or mesquite would still be around today if Marah were capable of out competing them.

  Although the vines of Marah can block some sunlight, and the root takes some water from the soil there is not much impact on the plants around it because the vines only grow for a few months and go dormant while the root or tuber is a large storage device mostly for water to help save the Marah from having to take large amounts of water from the soil when it does rain.

It must be remembered that Marah is a native species, and all native species have an important role to play in the ecosystem around them, and we should not allow our preconceptions about what is beautiful to guide our thinking of what is right or wrong in the environment.

  The chaparral of southern California is an incredible, yet unappreciated, ecosystem that needs understanding, and I do not want to dissuade you from understanding it further.  One factor that has far more to do with shaping the chaparral is "
allelopathy" which information on can be easily found by typing the following phrases into a searcher Artemisia californica allelopathy, Salvia leucophylla allelopathy."

-Allelopathy

 

       
March 20, 2005 - Our first visit to Lake Poway revealed the Wild Cucumber was going strong. This year it had already made it to the south west side, taking over several Laurels. Last year, it seamed to be restricted to the north and east side of the lake.
       


 


 


 


January/February/March  2005

Plants have already been popping up all over up. It has been one of the rainiest years, so I expect a lot of growth this year.


Fire impact on plants

Paradise Fire

Cedar Fire


February 4, 2004

On October 26 & 27, 2003, we had devastating fires here in San Diego. They got very close and burned many hills around Poway. The California Laurels are starting to come back, and the Wild Cucumber were already growing, looking for somethng to climb on. On this one hillside off Poway road, there was even mud covering the plants from a recent rain, but they manage to work their way to sunlight.



North side of Poway Road and where the shots below were taken.



South side of Poway road where the hillside is barren accept for the Wild Cucumbers

     

    2003 2004  

REFERENCE INFORMATION

Wildflowers o Southern California
Chaparral and Riparian Plants
Wildflowers of Tucson
Photos



GARDENING WITH NATIVE PLANTS: WILD CUCUMBER (Marah) by Jake Sigg

Wild Cucumber/ Manroot/ Bigroot - Marah oreganus - Paul Slichter
Characteristics:

Wild Cucumber is also called 'bigroot', 'manroot', and old-man-in-the-ground. It is a somewhat weedy, viny perennial that arises each year from a massive taproot. The stem is long and thick, with other long viny branches arising from the main stem.

The leaves are stalked and roughly heart-shaped, often reaching more than six inches in length and width. Numerous straight to spiraled tendrils loop off of the stem to wrap around other plants or objects to support the plant (See photo at right.). This is how the plant supports itself off of the ground, so the plant may be trailing or climbing.

The flowers are waxy-white and star-shaped (5 petals). Individual flowers are single-sexed. The inflorescence is a loose raceme (See photos at top). The fruit are gourd-like, ovate, fleshy at first, with prickly spines (see photo below). The fruits and seeds are poisonous.


Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus), is also known as manroot because of it huge, fleshy root, sometimes reaching 6' in length.  This is a branching, climbing vine with palmate leaves up to 4" across.  It has both male and female flowers on the same plant.   The fruit is a spiny, prickly green "cucumber" shaped pod containing shiny black seeds.  The plant is not edible.  Seeds were used as beads by the Indians, and ground to make a kind of mascara. Leaves were boiled to treat hemorrhoids.

Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus) Wild Cucumber or Chilicothe is a trailing vine from a large, fleshy root and has long, stalked leaves. The Native Californians made necklaces of the seeds, polishing them by rubbing the seeds along their oiled bodies. The Wild Cucumber is from the Gourd Family and blooms from January to June.

Lobos Creek Dunes and Valley Wildflowers and Flowering Shrubs
Wild Cucumber looks similar to the non-native Cape or English Ivies. They are all plants that try to cover everything within reach. If you see tendrils (leafless, thin stalks) wrapping around other plants, dead branches, etc. helping to stabilize and pull the vine around, then it's the Wild Cucumber. The Ivies wrap their entire branches around their neighbors. The Wild Cucumbers can be seen on the fence (along with both Cape and English ivy) dividing the dune area from the creek.  
There are 2 kinds of white flowers on the vine, male (with pollen) and female (with an ovary). The single flower is female and the flowers grouped on a long stem are male. The other common name, Manroot, presumably comes from the very large, vaguely human body shaped tuberous root. It keeps the plant alive after the leaves die off in Autumn and sends out new leaves each Spring. The fruit is pictured below.

The "cucumber" is a round, spiny fruit, an inch to several inches wide. Its seeds are poisonous and were used by some Native American tribes to chemically stun fish making them easier to catch. When ripe, the fruit pops open and tosses the very large seeds out.  

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