Botany Photo of the Day work-study student Claire Fadul wrote today’s entry:
Damon Tighe (Damon Tighe@Flickr) of Oakland, California took this exquisite photograph of Marah fabacea in Fremont, California, and shared it via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. Thank you Damon!
I found Marah fabaceus, a native of California, a fitting remembrance of my recent trip to San Francisco for reading break (Marah fabaceus var. arestis is the specific Bay Area variety). This photo certainly evokes the warm, sunny, early spring weather I experienced there and the abundance of blooming flowers all over Golden Gate Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if I glanced over one of these around the city as this perennial begins growth in December and flowers as early as January!
Being in Curcurbitaceae, which is also the family containing pumpkins, melons, and gourds, Marah fabacea is the most common of seven species in this genus of wild cucumbers (also called manroots). Wikipedia states that its wide range–nearly the entire span of California–encompasses that of all other native species of Marah in California, and hybrids between species are relatively frequent.
These wild cucumbers have a number of interesting structural features from roots to leaves, and were commonly used by the native peoples of California. For example, the seeds inside the fruit were once used as beads for jewelry or ground down for a cosmetic mascara. The roots of Marah fabacea (aptly called manroot due to their tuberous and fleshy appearance resembling that of a human foot), aid the plant after fires by sending up young shoots when surface vegetation has died. Here’s a whopping one I found, by photographer and landscape architect Paul Furman.
Marah fabacea is monoecious and the delicate flowers that can be seen in the photo are male (from what I can tell with my limited knowledge) due to their bunching structure. The female flowers are borne on a single stem and a spiky ovary is visible below the flower (i.e., it is epigynous). This small spiky ovary will eventually become the cucumber-like fruit. Sadly, Marah fabaceus does not produce a pleasant snack–the prickly fruit is poisonous.
Daniel adds: Regarding the name, some excellent references state Marah fabacea (International Plant Names Index, Tropicos, GRIN), while others suggest Marah fabaceus (The Plant List, USDA PLANTS database, and most others). I chose the former, as that seems to be the originally published name.