Text Ref: Hickman, Ed. 538; Munz, Calif. Flora 1059; Munz, Flora So. Calif. 393.
Photo Ref: June 3 83 # 6; Jan 4 Feb 84 # 8; Mar 2 85 # 10; Mar-April 95 # 9,10..
Identity: by R. De Ruff, confirmed by G. Marsh.
First Found: June 1983. Lat. 33° 37’ 07.9” N; Long 117° 54’ 18.9” W. Castaway’s bluffs.
Computer Ref: Plant Data 17.
Plant Specimen: With Robert De Ruff plant specimens.
Last Edit: 9/6/10.
VASCULAR PLANTS OF UPPER NEWPORT BAY
Marah macrocarpus (E. Greene)
E. Greene var. macrocarpus
Plant Characteristics: Climbing or trailing herb with annual stems arising from a large fusiform to
subglobose perennial tuber; Stems 3-7 m. long, subglabrous to +/- pubescent; leaves suborbicular 5-10 cm.
broad, +/- deeply 5-7 lobed, the lobes less than half the lf. length, acute to obtuse at apices, petioles 3-6 cm.
long; male corollas 8-13 mm. in dia, white, the 5,6, or 7 lobes ovate, 3-12 mm. long; female 15-20 mm. in
dia; fruit cylindrical, mostly 8-12 cm. long, 6-9 cm. in dia, beaked, densely spiny, the spines flattened, 5-30
mm. long, 1-3 mm. wide at base; seeds oblong, somewhat flattened, 15-20 mm. long, 12-18 mm. wide, 11-
14 mm. thick, brown to tan.
Habitat: Dry places, mostly below 3000 feet; Coastal Sage Scrub, Chaparral, S. Oak Wd; cismontane s. Calif,
L. Calif. Blooms Jan-April. Var. macrocarpus is found on mainland and var. major is found on the Channel
Islands. The species was first found on the Castaway’s bluffs where a nearby soil sample is fine sand with
some coarser grains and not enough silt to form hard clods. pH=6.2. Nearby growth includes Opuntia
littoralis, Artemisia californica, Lycium californicum and Encelia californicum.
Name: Marah, an aboriginal name. Munz, Flora So. Calif. 392. Greek, makros, large and karphos, fruit.
(Jaeger 47,147). See below for a note on the name Marah that indicates the origin of the genus name is
biblical rather than aboriginal. The Latin word for bitter, amarus, may have come from the biblical reference.
Sigg, Jake “Wild Cucumbers (Marah)”, (California Native Plant Society, Orange County Chapter Newsletter,
May/June 2002 p.5). Mr. Sigg is a member of the Yerba Buena Chapter of the CNPS.
General Information: Common throughout the study area; very common on the Castaway's bluffs.
Photographed on the Castaway's Bluffs and along Back Bay Dr. between Big Canyon and the old Salt Works
dike. (my comments). The Indians of California used the seeds as food, the roots and seeds were used as a
fish poison, red paint was made from the seeds and the roots were used as medicine. (Heizer & Elsasser 247).
Seeds of Echinocystis spp. were roasted and eaten for kidney trouble by the Calif. Indians. (Murphy 41).
The Calif. Indians made necklaces of the seeds, polishing them by rubbing them along their oiled bodies. It is
said that Indian children used them as marbles. There is nothing edible about this plant even though it is
called cucumber. The enormous root is intensely bitter and Marah refers to the bitter waters of that name in
the Bible (Exodus 15:23). (Dale 104). The Indians used the stems for string. (lecture by Charlotte Clarke,
author of Useful and Edible Plants of California, April 1987. The seeds have a very interesting method of
germinating. The two large radical leaves remain underground sending up the terminal shoots only. They are
so tender and succulent that they would be eaten forthwith if they showed themselves above the ground. Oil
expressed from the roasted seeds has been used by the Indians to promote growth of the hair. (Parsons 28).
The fibrous interior of the fruit was used as a luffa. (Forgione, Mary. "Herbology class unearths smorgasbord
of edible plants," Glendale Daily News, 7 May 1992, p. 10. Luffa or loofah, 1. Any of a genus Luffa of Old
World, tropical cucurbitaceous herbs. 2. The ovate or oblong fruit of this herb, fibrous within and often used to
filter oil and grease from condensed steam, as well as for cleaning and scrubbing.) (Funk & Wagnalls New
Comprehensive International Dictionary of the English Language. 1978 p.751). Delfina Cuero, a Southern
Diegueno or Kumeyaay Indian made the following comments about Marah macrocarpus in her autobiography:
"We ground the black seeds, mixed them with water and used the black as makeup. As medicine, we boiled
the leaves to use on hemorrhoids." (Shipek 93). Indians used the crushed pieces of green roots in streams
to stupify fish. Mexicans used the root for tanning. (Sweet 8). A specimen tuber of M. macrocarpus of
unknown age dug at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden stood for many years at the entrance to the
Administration Building. It had been transported on a flatbed truck, was several feet in diameter, and weighed
467 pounds, excluding several basal tubers left in the ground. Sigg, Jake, “Wild Cucumbers (Marah)”
(California Native Plant Society, Orange County Chapter Newsletter, May/June 2002 p.5). About 7 species of
the Pacific Coast. (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 392).