I have been watching this wonderful vine grow throughout the arboretum this year. I have followed it from the beginning as it sprouted its first vibrant, green leaves in spring to now, as the dried, brown seed pods split open to release their seeds. At the end of this trail, I find the mysterious, radiant blue Steller’s jay collecting the seeds and carrying them off to cache them.
Manroot (Marah oreganus) is a native perennial in the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae). Unlike its relatives, this plant is not edible. It gets its name from its large, woody, tuberous root.
Manroot will climb trees, cover shrubs, or flow along the ground. It can form a dense blanket of vines and leaves as it grows. Its coiled tendrils reach out and grasp onto small branches, bark, and other vegetation as it weaves its way through the landscape.
The male and female flowers are separate and on the same plant. Loosely clustered male flowers emerge on a narrow stalk, and that is what you see filling the landscape in spring with soft, white stars. The female flower is short-stalked, close to the vine, and is usually solitary.
The fruit is light green with dark green veins spreading on its surface. It is covered with spines that, fortunately, are fairly soft. Inside, it is fibrous and mostly consists of huge seeds. As the manroot vine dies off for the season, the pods turn brown, split open from the bottom, and release their seeds.
I feel that plants take on another fascinating life and energy as their color, shape, and texture transform as they die. The skin of the seed pod can have a variety of decaying textures and colors. The seeds have a look and feel of small, weathered river stones. They are round and flat with a slight curve. They are pleasant to roll around in my hand and listen to them tumble against each other. The dried leaves are captivating as they hang from the vines like wrinkled capes.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. Hope to see you out there.
Pojar, Jim, and Andrew MacKinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Revised ed, Lone Pine, 2004.