Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Imagine walking in the country - taking the overgrown path which leads down the dirt bank into the willows... picking your way among the rushes of the creekbank, and then taking a trail which leads into the shady trees beyond. The damp creek aroma smells sweet. Looking around, you can see emerald vines, crawling and clinging to the tree trunks & bushes, with curly tendrils hanging in ringlets beneath the wide ivy-shaped leaves.

As a child, roaming the creeks and wild areas in the Santa Monica mountains of southern California, I was fortunate enough to have had hours of unsupervised time to explore. When over at G's place today, I was reminded of those glorious times of discovery and delight. I loved the creek, with all of its own array of interesting living things (did you ever hear of a horsehair snake... really a parasite but we didn't know that then when we were bringing them home in pails - that is for another day's sharing and also it is much too ugly to put on my blog) and one thing I always loved was the Manroot vine. I saw it clinging everywhere, and succumbed at one point to the curiousity of breaking one of the prickly fruits open to see what was inside. There really isn't much more to this post, other when walking up the steep hill by my house yesterday (trying to get some much needed exercise) I noticed some of the vine growing in the scrubby live oaks next to the road, immediately nostalgically catapaulting me back in time to my parent's home way back when. I am even privileged enough to have an actual Manroot vine growing in my very own backyard, on the stickery holly tree in the deep shady corner by the dogrun. To my great sadness, my own vine is seasonal, and dies back when the first warm spell causes it die away until next storm season. I wish I could just keep it growing all year round - with vines and hairy prickly balls hanging all over my trees and bushes... but alas no. Oh, and why do you suppose it is named Manroot?

I am very sure that the following is much more information than anyone wants or needs to know about this fine plant, so put your head down on your desk and take a nap if you prefer.

And now for your science lesson for the day:

The California Manroot or Bigroot, Marah fabaceus, is the most common of the manroot species native to California. Its range throughout the state subsumes nearly the entire ranges of all the other California native manroots species and intergrades/hybrids between California manroot and the other species are common

Like other manroots, it has stout, hairy stems with tendrils. Vines appear in late winter in response to increased rainfall, and can climb or scramble to a length of 6m. Its leaves typically have five lobes with individual plants showing wide variation in leaf size and lobe length.
Vines emerge from a large, hard tuberous root which can reach several meters in length and weigh in excess of 100kg. Newly exposed tubers can be seen along roadcuts or eroded slopes and have a scaley, tan-colored surface. Injured or decaying tubers take on a golden or orange color.

The flower can vary in colour from yellowish green to cream to white. Flowers appear soon after the vine emerges. The flowers are monoecious, that is, individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant. Male flowers appear in open clusters while females flowers, distinguished by a swollen base, usually appear individually. The plant is self-fertile, i.e. pollen from the male flowers can fertilize the female flowers on the same plant; pollination is by insects ..

The fruit is spherical, 4-5 cm in diameter, and covered in prickles of variable density, up to 1cm long but without hooks. Unripe fruit are bright green, ripening to yellow. The fruit swells as it ripens until finally rupturing and releasing the large seeds. Fruit begin to form in spring and ripen by early summer.

Seeds & Germination
Seeds of the California manroot are large, hard, and very smooth. Fruit usually hold 4 or more seeds. Seeds sprout in the cool wetness of late winter. Seeds have an intriguing germination process. The initial shoot emerges from the seed and grows downward into the earth. This shoot then splits, one part beginning to swell and form the tuber, while the second part grows back to the surface and becomes the vine

The California Manroot grows most vigorously by streams or in washes but is also successful in dry chaparral, at elevations up to 1600 metres. It ranges through most of California except the far northwest and the Mojave. It will tolerate a variety of soil types and acidities, but it requires seasonally moist soil. Vines can grow in full-sun to partially shaded conditions. In mild areas where year-round moisture is available, vines can be perinneal. In the Mediterranean climate areas of California, manroot emerges soon after winter rains begin, grows until late spring, and dies back completely in the heat and dryness of summer.

All parts of the plant have a bitter taste (this is the meaning of the genus name Marah, which comes from Hebrew.) Despite this, the leaves have been used as a vegetable. The large tuber of the manroot can be processed for a soap-like extract.
Two varieties are recognised, Marah fabaceus var. agrestis (found in the San Francisco bay area and Contra Costa County), and Marah fabaceus var. fabaceus (found elsewhere in California).


Keshi said...

This is very interesting. ty for this post Terry! thats new for me.


G-Man said...

I feel like I just went on a nature walk..
Hi Terry, Informative as always....
You Rock as always..
Beautiful pics as always..

Doug said...

Um, is it called Manroot because it listens?

"Stickery" is a great word. Thanks for the botany.

Annie Rhiannon said...

Wow, this post took me back to when I visited California last year. I absolutely loved it there. I'm hoping to go back one day and do some more exploring.

jillie said...

What a pretty blog today. I to grew up next to a woods and a river and use to just walk endlessly and make my own hideaways amongst the tree and just watch mother nature at work. Nobody ever knew where I was. I even use to bring my barbie dolls up there and just play. Those were such great innocent times.

I had to LOL at your comment you left for's the Vet that actually recommended for our dog we had prior to our crew now. She use to get blasted by skunks and they said that works the BEST out of silly nut!

Toby said...

"...rolling in the rushes down by the riverside..." - Sugar Magnolia - Grateful Dead.

Very interesting. We have something similar here in Wisconsin and the thorny balls can be quite painful.

jillie said...

Thorny balls do sound!!!!

javajazz said...

wow! pretty and exotic greenery,
wonderful information
and yes, good advice,
almost a metaphor phor life:
"keep an eye out
for the prickly balls..."
(they really do resemble
spiky shiny green testicles
of a sort,
dont you think?)

kimber the wolfgrrrl said...

Not really very cuddly looking, are they!

A very informative and interesting post! Thanks!

actonbell said...

I'm impressed with all this knowledge! And I need to go hiking more often. tut,tut
Beautiful pictures:)

The Old Mule said...

Wow. What a wonderful post. This made my day. I recall a species of this plant from Oregon, which we called "wild cucumber", and I remember other folks referred to it as "old man root". The coastal indigenous groups used it (the seeds rather) as a medicinal hallucinogen, I was told.

How wonderful to have such a cool plants growing wild by your dog run! Sounds like you have an adventurous back yard.

Tom & Icy said...

That was interesting. Just made me wonder about some plant that grew where I lived in the hills that I think they call ginsing or something like that which has a root shaped like a little man. Just thinking.

Lord Garfunkel of Ballyesmond said...

a jolly lovely picture you painted there old bean.

Lord G of B

Jodes said...

that was awesome - a nature walk in my favorite chair and the chair is green. :)

tsduff said...

Keshi - I bet you have tons of other interesting stuff over there where you live...

Galen - you can see a lot of things when you get off the bike and slow down ;-)

Doug - guffaw - a "man" that listens..I think you must have that description mixed up with something else. But I like your effort in trying. Well, perhaps there are a rare few out there who listen...

tsduff said...

Annie Rhiannon - delighted to see you here. I remember your visit to our sunny state... checking out the cafeteria at Google and all... yes, hope you come back soon. There are many great things to see outside of the city.

Jillie - I remember the pretty picture you posted of the river or ice and ducks or something... I think it was you anyway. Growing up with places of earthy splendor to visit is something I never take for granted. More people should. They would be nicer I think.

oh - and when my pup Tobin was sprayed at 3 in the morning, my husband let him in unknowingly, and Tobin ran up the carpeted stairs, rubbing his eyes and thick skunky fur all over each one, and then jumping on the bed to complete the smell massacre. My boss's wife was a vet and she recommended some kind of neutralizer stuff which worked sort of. Our bed was ruined, and so were the stairs. Never thought to use your solution... HA HA HA.

tsduff said...

Toby - nice lyrics - very apropos. HELLO WISCONSIN.... they have stickery balls there?

Jillie - LOL

Lisa- yes, personally I think that is why they are so named. But they aren't true to life in that respect. :-D

Kimber the Wolfgrrrl... Howdy - love your site. Thanks for coming by. Do they have any vines like these up north where you live?

Actonbell - we should ALL go hiking more often - it is fun and healthy and so much more fun than sitting in traffic. I neglected to mention that as I was "hiking" I was actually trying to exercise by walking up an extremely steep hill when I saw the manroot... I was nearly dead at the time from exertion and needed a break.

tsduff said...

Old Mule - I noticed as I was researching the California manroot that the Oregon cucumber looks quite similar... but rather oblong shaped rather than spherical. Interesting about the seeds - reminds me of my brother who as a young teenager was told that the nutmeg nut possessed the same hallucinogenic qualities, so he grated it and snorted it. All he got for his trouble was a sore sinus.

Icy - maybe your daddy Dusty got into that ginsing - as it is not only shaped like a man, but is supposed to increase libido as well... :-D

Lord G of B... So AWFULLY good of you to pop in - may I offer you a cup of tea my dear fellow?

Jodes - nature walk from the chair, eh? Well, glad to oblige, but really, it is better outside :-D

Top cat said...

great post terry, I enjoyed walking along looking at the pictures.
I clicked the link on the horsehair snakes..they're GROSS!
poor little grasshoppers.):

G said...

Ooh glad to be an inspiration for such a glorious nature walk. Thanks Terry for an interesting botanical lesson.

jillie said...

Yes I did post that was at my mom's house....her back yard.

Good memory!!!

Megan said...

Very nice. We have "wild cucumber" in WI. I actually have quite a few vines growing on the pine trees in my back yard. I picked one the other day wondering what it was. I since stumbled across your blog. Very interesting.