Been nigh on a dog’s age since I’ve bestowed this laurel. Let’s be honest, the competition has been less than captivating. In fact this is the only bloom I saw consistently since November.
This hardy champion emerges with the first fall showers. We had barely a quarter of an inch and that was enough to send it climbing up trees. Its tendrils have been known to snatch babies from cribs
and the seed pods make nasty projectiles capable of toppling a Navy SEAL. A handful of the seeds were part of the purchase price of the island of Manhattan and the root is the size of a 1991 Yugo. What, you’ve got a problem with a bit of hyperbole?
Wild Cucumber, or chilecote or manroot. This hardy deciduous vine is a member of the gourd family, a cousin of the pumpkin and our local calabazilla. The scientific name is Marah macrocarpus, Marah is from the Hebrew word for bitter and macrocarpus refers to the mutant monster seed pod.
Drought-be-damned it emerges with the first showers of fall and start climbing and clambering sometimes up to 25 feet.
The leaves are large and palmate. Male flowers are numerous and white, fertilizing the lonely female flower at the leaf axil.
Wild cucumber is monoecious, which means that both male and female flowers are present on the same plant.
I have no idea how a seed pod of this shape and size evolves but they are quite a sight. Each one houses approximately eight to twelve shiny smooth seeds. You have to be quick if you want to collect a few, the varmints usually tear them open, hijacking the goodies inside.
By late spring the entire above-ground vine shrivels up and hibernates until fall, the desiccated vines the only remnants of the once mighty crawler.
As the nickname implies, the root can grow to positively gargantuan proportions, which helps sustain the plant in drought years. A root of over 450 pounds was removed from the ground at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden. While it may resemble a giant potato the taste is supposedly so evil and pervasive that it will remain on the tongue for days regardless of how much listerine you use.
Taste nonwithstanding, the wild cucumber had numerous uses in native American culture.
The shiny seeds were polished and used for jewelry or gaming pieces similar to a marble. They could also be crushed and used for black ink. Medicinal uses for the seeds include a drink given to pregnant women and newborns to promote health. A stronger concoction could also be used as a purgative or even poison. The root is also very poisonous and some tribes (not the Chumash) used it to paralyze fish for capture.
The March storm brought back a whole new flush of growth and blooms so head out and enjoy their grotesque beauty.
Thanks for reading and your eternal patience with my less-than-regular postings. The big spring native plant sale is April 19th, more details to follow.