header image

[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail


Today in
S.C.V. History
February 26
1923 - U.S. release of Charles Chaplin film "The Pilgrim," partially shot at Saugus Train Station & Newhall First Presbyterian Church [watch]
The Pilgrim

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Feb 26, 2015

evelynevandersande_mugWhat if there were a popularity contest for a native plant? If such a thing existed, I am pretty sure the wild cucumber would win first place handily.

This plant seems innocent enough and always takes visitors on the trails by surprise. The schoolchildren coming to Placerita have many comments each time we take them walking on the trails.

The fruit offers a particular fascination. “What is that? Is that a nest?”

When the fruit is nice and green, it looks especially scary with all of those sharp points, and you have to take it gingerly between your fingers to avoid being stabbed. When it is summer and the fruit is dried out, it looks strange, indeed. The sharp points are dry, but large seed chambers have opened up. Each entrance to the chambers are opened up large, curved upward, and look like nothing else around. The seeds are large and brown and also seem disproportionate to the gentle and innocent light-green vine that appeared in the winter.

wildcucumber2 However, even in the winter, this vine has an attitude of its own. After the first rain, the wild cucumber starts to grow. I would not say it does that mildly. The vine grows extremely rapidly with an exuberance that is not matched by another plant in the middle of the winter. I am pretty sure growth could be monitored from day to day to see a remarkable increase. As the vine is lightweight and grabs at any nearby branch for support, it is a sign that spring will be here again, even if we are in the middle of the winter.

The wild cucumber, or Marah macrocarpus, is also known as manroot or bigroot. It is not related to the cucumber we eat. It tastes bitter, and this is how it found its name. “Marah” means bitter in Hebrew.

“And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah; for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.”

However, when people start speaking about the wild cucumber, it is all of the little side stories that they are excited about – and there are many of them.

wildcucumber3Californian Indians used the wild cucumber for many purposes. One interesting story is how they used to fish with the wild cucumber seeds and tubers. It was not really fishing but more a way of stupefying the fish and then being able to pick them up out of the water when they would float to the surface. They would mash the fruit and the root and add it to the water; the fish would float to the surface, and this is how the fishing was done. Of course, the fish was not poisoned; otherwise it would have been inedible. It was just a temporary effect but very useful.

Which, of course, brings us to the point: “Do the seeds contain a hallucinogen?” If you start a sentence like this in a presentation, you can see your audience perking up, becoming alert and suddenly very interested.

In the 1960s, several children in Ojai showed symptoms of severe hallucination, and it was learned they had been nibbling on seeds of the wild cucumber. At this time, there is no information of the exact chemical nature of the hallucinogens (similar components to LSD).

Right away, I want to warn you strongly not to try anything foolish. In a normal year, it is almost impossible to determine what somebody could tolerate and what would kill him. This year, the danger is even greater as increased effects are related to the drought we are experiencing.

cucumberWe have found many plants that can be eaten without any problems during years with a normal amount of rainfall, but they simply must be left alone this year. Otherwise, you could end up with strong GI tract distress and maybe even more dangerous problems. This is noticed even for plants that are not poisonous, so you can only imagine the concentration in the flesh of a seed that starts out being a hallucinogen.

The seeds (roasted and ground) were used to make pigments for rock art by Native Americans and might have been used from time to time by the ladies as eyeliner.

The dried, spiky fruit can be soaked in water so all of the spikes fall off and then it can be useful as a loofa. The tuber contains saponins, which is a natural soap, so this was a useful plant for the Chumash.

Then there is this name that makes your imagination run wild: manroot, Old man in the ground? Where is that coming from? What does it mean? The root is large – very large and shaped vaguely like a human. Some large tubers can weighh up to 100 pounds. Sometimes, newly exposed tubers can be seen along road cuts or eroded slopes. They have a tan-colored surface with a vague resemblance to a mummy shape that strikes the imagination.

Wild-Cucumber-VineMuch gentler are the flowers that emerge soon after the vine grows, making them really the first bloom of the season.

They are small and white, and yet again, very interesting. The male flower is part of a cluster of blossoms on a long stem (with pollen) and the female flower is a single flower (with an ovary). Individual flowers can be male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant. The pollen of the male flower can fertilize the female flower on the same plant. That is a fantastic advantage for reproduction done by insects or wind. Since both flowers are close together on the same plant, Marah are termed “self-fertile.”

We already discussed the fruit covered with prickles, bright green in the spring turning yellow in the summer. But how do the seeds germinate? The fruit usually holds at least four large, smooth brown seeds. They will fall to the ground, and animals will eat many of them, but some will remain there until the first rain comes. The initial shoot emerges from the seed and grows down in the ground, holding the seed in a favorable environment. That same shoot will then divide in half, one part going down into the ground, and the other part reaching for the sun and becoming the first vine.

There is much to learn about the wild cucumber. It is a lovely, crazy and wild plant. It always makes me joyful when I discover this tender new vine covered in blossoms in the dark days of winter.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 28 years. She lives in Newhall.

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


  1. K Pfalzgraf says:

    Thank you Evelyne. I really enjoy your work.

  2. Sam Townsend Sam Townsend says:


  3. I believe it’s a Cucamonga Manroot, a wild gourd cucumber of sorts.

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Monday, Feb 26, 2024
Since City incorporation in 1987, public safety has remained a top priority for the city of Santa Clarita.
Friday, Feb 23, 2024
One of my favorite passions is traveling, especially to exotic countries to explore different cultures and lifestyles – and if I can’t travel, I love to escape within the pages of a book.
Thursday, Feb 22, 2024
Star has never been one to let a tough situation keep her down. But an unexpected injury put her resilience to the test.
Thursday, Feb 22, 2024
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose Fifth District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, issued a statement in response to Thursday's Chiquita Canyon Landfill protest.
Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024
While Valentine’s Day may have passed, the spirit of love continues to flourish throughout February, especially here at Henry Mayo Hospital, where we're dedicated to celebrating matters of the heart in more ways than one! Beyond the chocolates and flowers, we're focusing on maintaining heart health for ourselves and our loved ones.
Monday, Feb 19, 2024
As the seasons transition and spring begins to warm up our Valley, it’s the perfect time for residents to get outdoors and get active.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The Master's University women's basketball team got to within one in the final quarter, but it was the Menlo Oaks that pulled away in the end to get the 67-60 win Saturday afternoon in The MacArthur Center.
Lady Mustangs Drop Regular Season Finale to Menlo Oaks 60-67
In honor of Black History Month, California State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, is pleased to recognize several prominent Black community leaders and organizations who are making a difference across Senate District 21.
SCV Realtor Recognized Among Wilk’s Black History Month Spotlight
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond joined educators and members of the California Teachers Association Monday on the west steps of the California State Capitol to announce historic legislation—the Pregnancy Leave for Educators Act.
Landmark Legislation Announced for School Employees Paid Pregnancy Leave
The California Jaycee Foundation announced Monday Alexander Bonfiglio of Golden Valley High School is one of eight graduating high school seniors receiving a $1,000 Scholarship resulting from the annual competition completed in January 2024.
Santa Clarita Student Earns CA Jaycee Foundation Scholarship
The city of Santa Clarita’s Film Office released the list of nine productions currently filming in the Santa Clarita Valley for the week of Monday, Feb. 26 - Sunday, March 3.
Nine Productions Currently Filming in Santa Clarita
The Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m.
COC Board to Consider Amendment to Purchase of 30,000-Square-Foot Tech Center
The regular meeting of the Saugus Union School District Governing Board will take place Tuesday, Feb. 27, with closed session beginning at 5:15p.m., followed immediately by public session at 6:30 p.m.
Saugus School Board to Consider Staff Reductions
Since City incorporation in 1987, public safety has remained a top priority for the city of Santa Clarita.
Ken Striplin | Time to Take a Heads Up! Mindset
The California Department of Transportation has scheduled lane closures on the northbound and southbound State Route 14 between Technology Drive in Palmdale and Avenue A in Lancaster, closing up to three lanes.
Caltrans Announces SR-14 Lane Closures
The Sierra Hillbillies is inviting the community to put on green and add shamrocks and leprechauns to its next monthly dance on Sunday, March 3, from 2 p.m to 5 p.m., at Valencia United Methodist Church.
March 3: Sierra Hillbillies Hosting Leprechaun’s Dance
It's the goal of every basketball team to cut down the nets.
Mustangs Capture Conference Title with Win Over Menlo Oaks 80-73
1923 - U.S. release of Charles Chaplin film "The Pilgrim," partially shot at Saugus Train Station & Newhall First Presbyterian Church [watch]
The Pilgrim
1936 - U.S. release of Silent Era's last feature, "Modern Times" with Charles Chaplin, partially shot in SCV [story]
Modern Times scene
1993 - Jury awards Newhall Land $2.3 million for "Valencia" trademark infringement by Palmer apartments at Valle del Oro, Newhall [story]
Palmer Guilty
Author and illustrator Vashti Harrison (Film/Video MFA 14) has been named the recipient of the 2024 Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children for her book "Big."
CalArtian Wins 2024 Caldecott Medal
Earlier this month, CSUN’s College of Health and Human Development recognized 10 physical therapy students for winning scholarships from the Roy and Roxie Campanella Foundation and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.
CSUN Physical Therapy Students Honored by Campanella, Dodgers Foundations
The Master's University men's basketball team was nearly perfect down the stretch as they defeated the Jessup Warriors 72-65 Thursday night at The MacArthur Center.
Mustangs Defense Comes Up Big in Win Over Jessup 72-65
Scoring 23 points in the final quarter, The Master's University women's basketball team broke open a close game to defeat the Jessup Warriors 59-45 Thursday night in The MacArthur Center.
Lady Mustangs Pull Away in 4th to Defeat Warriors 59-45
Calling all Junior High and High School students – bring your IDs and join us for discounted ice skating at The Cube – Ice and Entertainment Center | Powered by FivePoint Valencia, located at 27745 Smyth Drive.
City Releases Schedule for High School Nights at The Cube
Valencia-based Lief Labs, a premier formulation and product development innovator and manufacturer of dietary supplements which was founded in February of 2008, marked the completion of its 15th year of business with a celebratory event at Lief’s Valencia headquarters on Friday, Feb. 16.
Valencia-Based Lief Labs Celebrates 15 Years
The Santa Clarita City Council will hold a public safety meeting Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 4 p.m., followed by its regular meeting at 6 p.m.
Feb. 27: City Council Expected Consider Parks Vacancy Applicants
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed Friday 78 new cases and one additional death from COVID-19 in the Santa Clarita Valley within the last week.
Public Health Ends Weekly COVID-19 Updates
Recently, the Department of Public Health received a Proposition 65 Notice from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control regarding the threatened illegal discharge of hazardous waste from the Chiquita Canyon Landfill.
Prop 65 Notice Issued to L.A. County for Chiquita Canyon Landfill
One of my favorite passions is traveling, especially to exotic countries to explore different cultures and lifestyles – and if I can’t travel, I love to escape within the pages of a book.
Bill Miranda | Santa Clarita Unveils One Story One City Selection