Marah oregana has been in the local news recently, so I thought I’d feature it. Its 6cm-long cucumber-like fruit correctly suggests it is in the same family as cucumbers, squashes and watermelons. Tendrils, another characteristic pointing to Cucurbitaceae (though not exclusively so), can be seen in these photographs of Marah oregana from 2003.
Like all Marah species, Marah oregana is western North American in distribution; the species ranges from southwest British Columbia to northern California. The small population in British Columbia represents the northernmost extent of the genus, while other species push the range of the genus south into northwestern Mexico and east into New Mexico. One member of the genus was previously featured on BPotD: Marah fabacea. That entry contains a link (“whopping one”) to the reason for the common name of manroot for the genus, but here’s another photograph of a Marah tuber if you don’t want to dig for it. Marah oregana is commonly called coast(al) manroot, and given the size of the tubers, I suspect individuals have the largest underground biomass of any individual non-woody plants in British Columbia (but I’m happy to be corrected) and perhaps even Canada.
Eighteen individuals are known to exist in the wild in Canada. The reason the species has been in the news is because a decision was made to not list the species as endangered under Canada’s Species At Risk Act. For the story, see: Coast manroot fails to catch Kent’s eye: Environment minister rejects committee’s suggestions for endangered species list. The noted committee is COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, “a committee of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada”. In November 2009, COSEWIC assessed Marah oregana as endangered (see the Marah oregana Assessment and Status Report (PDF)). On July 4, 2012, the decision behind the Order not to add the species to SARA was posted.
As an aside, many references use Marah oreganus for the name instead of Marah oregana; USDA GRIN taxonomists and the 2nd Edition of The Jepson Manual have switched the gender to the feminine, in accordance to the classical gender of the Hebrew name Marah.