Plant of the day: manroot

A tangle of twining vines sprawls over a nearby bush; pale green climbing tendrils form tightly wound curlicues until they find something to wrap around.  Whether it trails along the ground or sprawls across its neighbor, each branch throws carefree spires of small white flowers into the sunshine and the wind.

This is an early-blooming manroot, or wild cucumber. There are two common species of manroot in the area: California manroot (Marah fabaceus) and coast manroot (M. oreganus). California manroot, pictured here, has greenish flowers with a round ovary, leaves that are generally less than 10 cm wide, and rigid spines on its gourd-like fruit. Coast manroot has white flowers with a beaked or pointed ovary, larger leaves, and softer spines.

California manroot is an endemic found throughout much of California. The Pomo and Kashaya tribes would treat baldness with a concoction made from pounded manroot, skunk grease and pepperwood nuts–a cure that may have been worse than the problem. The root was also thrown into the water to poison fish so they could be harvested.

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