Biological Sciences, Santa Barbara City College

Biology 100: Concepts of Biology

Marah fabaceus    Wild Cucumber

Marah fabaceus is the only species of the genus Marah found in our area. Marah is common in the both the coastal sage shrub and foothill woodland communities. It is a common plant of dry areas of the chaparral, washes, and roadsides below 3,000’. It will tolerate a variety of soil types and acidities but does require moist soil and a sunny aspect. Wild Cucumber is a perennial vine with stout, hairy stems with tendrils and is often seen climbing and trailing over other chaparral plant species. The leaves have 5 – 7 lobes and are heart shaped and can be up to 4” across.

Another name for Marah is manroot. This refers to the large, vaguely human shaped, woody or fleshy underground root. Some large tubers can weigh up to 100 pounds. Marah is deciduous and in the fall the foliage dies back. After the first winter rains and as early in the “spring” as December Marah sends up rapidly growing shoots from this underground tuber. This underground root also helps Marah survive fires that destroy plants on the surface of the ground. Marah is often one of the first plants to be seen coming back after a fire.

You can find Marah in bloom as early as January. Flowers have five petals and are small and whitish. They are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female) but both sexes are found on the same plant. The single flower is female (with an ovary) and the flowers grouped on a long stem are male (with pollen). Female flowers are found at the base of the stem bearing the male flowers. Marah is self-fertile (pollen from the male flowers can fertilize the female flowers on the same plant).

The "cucumbers" are 4 to 5 cm. (2 to 3 inches) long, round to ovoid, light green, prickly poisonous gourds. They are densely covered with stiff flattened prickles and contains 4 – 16 brownish seeds. Seeds were used as beads by the Indians, and ground to make a kind of mascara. Leaves were boiled to treat hemorrhoids.

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Marah is in the Cucurbitaceae plant family. Examples of plants in this family are cucumbers, watermelons, squashes, pumpkins and cantaloupes. This is a medium-sized plant family, primarily found in the warmer regions of the world. It is a major family for economically important species, particularly those with edible fruits. The family contains of the earliest cultivated plants in both the Old and New Worlds.

Kingdom Plantae – Plants
Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass Dilleniidae –
Order Violales –
Family Cucurbitaceae – Cucumber family
Genus Marah –
Species fabaceus –

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