Newsletter 2002 May – June
California Native Plant Society
Orange County Chapter Newsletter
A Young Friend Gone…
We lost a young member of our CNPS chapter very recently and very suddenly. Alec Balliet was a good friend of the Orange County chapter and the Golden West College Native Garden. I’m proud to say he was also a friend of mine. He was one of those rare people who have noble plans and overcome all obstacles to achieve their worthy goals. Alec had attended Golden West College and was engaged as our first work-study student in the Native Garden. It was here his love of the native flora first blossomed, and an idea of what direction he would like his life to take, took shape. With encouragement from my friend and colleague, Rod Wallbank and myself and with his own determination he successfully finished his courses here at GWC and headed off to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study landscape architecture. He worked under, and was further inspired by David Fross and other teachers, as he cultivated a great love of California’s wilderness. He was determined to incorporate the intriguing and lovely native plants as a main feature in his future landscape designs.
Before beginning his career he decided to study abroad for a while to round out his knowledge and expand his experiences. He took two trips to the Mediterranean region with his trusty Nikon camera and ever-present sketch journals visiting the lovely and timeless architecture, historic gardens, and beautiful works of art. He worked in kitchens for his room and board, did some student teaching, and even design consulting in some of the lovely towns of the Tuscany area. Upon returning, Alec helped out at the CNPS spring plant sale at Tree of Life Nursery last year, spending spare moments sketching various views of the wonderful Nursery gardens. In e-mail conversations I learned that Alec was really ready for this spring’s CNPS field trips, especially the April 28 hike in the Laguna Wilderness and the Catalina trip in early June. It wasn’t that long ago he chose a job at a large landscape architectural firm in Costa Mesa, being valued as one of their “artistic” young people.
Just a few weeks ago, Alec was stricken by a serious illness and did not recover. Rod Wallbank and I both shared a friendship with Alec that was kept up through occasional visits, phone calls, e-mail, and postcards as he finished school or traveled. He has left a great many memories for those who knew him and appreciated his ideals, talent, curiosity, great intentions as well as his humor, determination, and appreciation of all people and cultures. In his memory we wish to install a beautiful table with benches, done in stone with a heavy wood top. This permanent addition to the Golden West Native Garden would be placed on a small plateau in the Foothill Woodland section near the keystone Coast Live Oak which Alec sat beneath so many times, (and near which he pulled many a weed!). Unfortunately, the Golden West Native Garden does not have a budget for this and the Board of the Orange County Chapter of CNPS has graciously offered $100.00 to start the Alec Balliet Memorial Fund. It is expected to take about $1,500 to complete this permanent addition to the garden in Alec’s memory. Golden West College Native Garden offers it’s sincere thanks to the entire Chapter for this contribution and kind thoughts.
…Dan Songster, President
Contributions to the Alec Baillet Memorial are warmly welcomed. Checks should be made out to the Golden West College Foundation with a note specifying that this money be placed in the Alec Balliet Memorial Fund. You will receive a note in return thanking you for your contribution. The amount given is fully tax deductible. Please send contributions to:
The Golden West College Foundation
Golden West College
PO Box 2748
Huntington Beach, CA 92647-2748
Calendar of Events
May 4……….. Otay Mtn field trip
May 5……….. Bugs & Butterflies
May 9…………………….. Board Mtg
May 11………….. Rancheria Road
May 16……………….. Chapter Mtg
May 18…………… Santa Ana Mtns
Jun 1………….. River Park Picnic
Jun 1………….. CNPS State Board
Jun 7-9……. Catalina Work Trip
Jun 13……………………. Board Mtg
Jun 20………………… Chapter Mtg
Jun 22-23.. San Bernadino Mtns
Jun 30…………… Canoe Back Bay
Thurs, 10-1…….. UCI arboretum
Chapter meetings are held on the third Thursday of the month at the Irvine Ranch Water District headquarters at 15600 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the meeting begins at 7:30. Wildflower posters and a wide variety of books are available at the meeting
Directions: From the Santa Ana Freeway (I 5) exit on Sand Canyon Road west. Pass Irvine Center Drive. Turn left at the next light onto Waterworks Road, then left into the IRWD parking lot. From the 405 exit east on Sand Canyon/Shady Canyon, turn right on Waterworks and left into the parking lot. Enter the building from the rear.
May 16 (Thursday)—Plant Identification Workshop, starts at 7:30 PM
Our goal for this year’s workshop is to demystify one of the many plant families that we encounter frequently in the wild and often use in our gardens.
The Mint family (LAMIACEAE) is very large and diverse. Worldwide, it includes about 200 genera and 5500 species. Most members of this family share one significant characteristic: they are aromatic (and some are aromatic!) Most also have a more or less square stem. Some species are in cultivation for herbs and oils; many are cultivated as ornamentals.
We will use plant samples and slides to look at some of our local Mint family members: the Salvias, Monardellas, Lepechinias, Saturejas, Scutellarias, Stachys, and Trichostemas are among the possibilities. We will also go through a key to identify a selection of (easy!) plants. This is a great opportunity to bring in a mystery plant for identification, either in the flesh or in a clear photo. Come and enjoy a fragrant evening!
June 20 (Thursday)—An Evening in the Garden: Golden West College Native Garden, tour starts at 7 PM to catch the twilight
Gardens are always evolving. Young plants grow, old plants die and are replaced by young plants. Trees mature, bulbs acclimate, annuals re-seed, perennials naturalize. By revisiting a garden each year, the subtle changes become a kind of discovery and surprise.
Once again, the Golden West College Native Garden will be open for an evening tour. The garden is not large, but it is laid out in such a way that the distance traveled belies the total acreage. The paths meander among several plant communities. Each contains a natural collection of the plants found in that community without a slavish attempt to copy nature’s intricate layout. Although most of colorful annuals will have ‘gone over’, there will still be perennials in bloom. Come and enjoy refreshments as we wind our way through this collection of textures, fragrances, and colors
Golden West College is located at 15744 Golden West Street, Huntington Beach. To get there, take Beach Blvd. north off the 405 Freeway. Immediately turn left on McFadden. Follow McFadden to Golden West Street and turn left again. Take the first legal left turn off Golden West into the parking lot and drive across it toward the Automotive Technology Building. Parking will be “citation free” after 6 PM. (Do not park in Staff slots, however.) Follow signs to the garden.
Conservation Issues in Orange County: the SCORE Report:
The SCORE Land Use Task Force for Rancho Mission Viejo continues its bi-weekly meetings. To date, the meetings have been informational and included a tour of the Ranch. Once members have received all the background information, the Task Force will study alternatives for the Rancho’s fate.
SCORE (South County Outreach and Review Effort) was initiated by Supervisor Tom Wilson (5th District) to bring the community into the beginning stages of the planning for Rancho Mission Viejo’s future, rather than at the end as in the usual EIR process. The two-dozen Task Force members represent a broad spectrum: adjoining cities, local agencies, several environmental groups, and also several development-oriented groups. The general feeling was hope and optimism that SCORE will result in a better plan than would an EIR process. Meetings will continue every other Thursday for several months. Celia Kutcher, Chapter representative to SCORE
We had a terrific volunteer turnout for the Spring Plant Sale at Tree of Life Nursery. While we shared the sale with the San Diego chapter, almost all the volunteers were from the Orange County chapter—very impressive volunteer power indeed.
Special thanks to the following for their commitment: Umi Shieh, Ann Thiel, Christiane Shannon, Helen de la Maza, Sarah Jayne, Daniel Songster, Susan and Dennis Keagy, Judy and Phil Westin, Celia Kutcher, and Mary Aramabula.
We hope to see you at the fall plant sale at UCI Arboretum where we will not have the benefit of the professional staff from Tree of Life! Many thanks also to those who adopted native flora and to those who spread the word!
Todd Heinsma, Volunteer Coordinator
Weed War continues at UCI Arboretum
A doughty crew attacks weeds and non-natives in the UCI Arboretum’s California Native collection on Thursdays, 9:30 to 1:30. Celia Kutcher directs the efforts of regulars Richard Estorga, Steve Hampson, Sarah Jayne, Seetaram Motupalli, Marilyn Sion and Phil Westin who are joined from time to time by other chapter members and arboretum volunteers. The crew has made a first (and in some sections, a second and third) pass through about two-thirds of the collection so far, trimming and generally sprucing up as well as reducing the weed population. The collection looks better every week!
Additional crew is always welcome! Bring a weeding hoe and pruners if you have them. Sturdy work shoes, hat, sunscreen, and gloves are advised. It’s OK to join the crew for just an hour or so.
From the 405 Freeway, take Jamboree Road south to Campus Drive. Turn east on Campus, very shortly turn right onto a campus service road, then left into the Arboretum’s drive-in gate. Park in the gravel area behind the greenhouses. If that’s full, park in the campus lot across the way and feed the meter (parking passes may be available).
Another UCI Arboretum Project…
Early in April, the chapter donated a load each of decomposed granite and soil to the Islands and Baja section at the arboretum. This area fronts on the parking lot thus is very visible. The DG and soil were distributed between large boulders to form raised mounds for planting. Mark Elvin, the curator for the Native Plant gardens at the arboretum, was very happy with the results.
“The DG and soil have worked out exceptionally well!! (And I don’t like to use exclamation points). The Island section really looks great now, thanks to you, Celia, and everyone else at the CNPS (in addition to RSABG). I planted a number of Island natives in the section and it is starting to fill in (still a ways to grow though). … RSABG donated a carload of plants a couple of weeks ago (including Hazardia cana, Dudleya traskiae, D. gnoma, Munzothamnus blairii, Galium catalinense ssp. acrispum, Arctostaphylos insularis, Lotus argophyllus var. adsurgens). The Santa Catalina Island Conservancy is bringing over seeds for the UCI Arboretum on April 19 or 20 while making a trip to the mainland. I can’t thank you enough for all that you and the Orange County Chapter have done for the UCI Arboretum.” Mark Elvin
FIELD TRIPS AND EVENTS
Many of our field trips consume most of the day, so prepare accordingly. Always bring plenty of water and some form of sun protection. For more information or to rsvp call or e-mail Sarah Jayne at (949) 552-0691 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Non-members are always welcome.
May 4 (Saturday)—San Diego County: Otay Mountain with Mark Elvin, Rain or Shine (Be prepared!)
Otay Mountain in San Diego County has many rare and interesting plants. This trip will go up Otay Mountain on Otay Truck Trail from the east side through Dulzura. We will meet at the intersection of Otay Lakes Road and Hwy 94 at 9 AM for a day of exploration and serendipity in this botanically diverse area.
To get to the meeting place, from I-5 south, take the 805 south for about 10 miles. Get on I-8 and head east for about 8 miles. Take 125 south for about 2 miles then the 94 east. Tricky! To get to the 94, make a left turn after exiting the 125 and go under it, then make an immediate right onto 94 east. You will also make a right turn at a traffic light in Spring Valley to stay on 94. Allow a good two+ hours from Orange County. Please rsvp so that we’ll know to expect you.
May 5 (Sunday)—Riley Wilderness Park Presents Bugs & Butterflies, 10 AM to 4 PM
The one acre butterfly garden at Riley Wilderness Park is finally mature. It contains native larval host and nectar plants from various southern Californian plant communities. To celebrate this success, the park is holding a Bugs & Butterflies event that will include nature hikes, demonstrations, crafts for kids, snacks and refreshments for sale, outdoor education supply exhibits and products, and more. Among the exhibitors expected are the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, North American Butterfly Society, Acorn Naturalist, Sea and Sage Audubon, California Native Plant Society, and Orange County Wild.
The park is 5 miles east of I-5 at the end of Oso Parkway, right side. Parking is $2
May 11 (Saturday)—Rancheria Road, Greenhorn Mountains in Kern County
Rancheria Road is a graded gravel road that goes up into the Greenhorn Mountains east of Bakersfield. Elevation changes provide an interesting range of habitats and plants. Seems far to go just for a day, but it’s not a difficult trip and we always have plenty of time for botanizing. We will meet Steve Hampson at his dad’s house in Bakersfield.
Take I-5 north, then 99 north, then CA-58 east towards Tehachapi/Mojave. Exit at Fairfax Rd, turn left onto S. Fairfax, right onto Pioneer,.left onto Tangerine. The address is 1011 Tangerine St, house on the right where there’s an ocotillo in the front. Driving time is about 2 hours 45 minutes. Try to get there by 10 AM. If you would like to car pool, contact Sarah Jayne.
May 18 (Saturday)—Santa Ana Mountains Car Trip with the Orange County Natural History Association
Many truck trails criss-cross the Santa Ana Mountains and provide access to areas that would otherwise require long hikes to reach. This trip will enter and exit from Black Star Canyon and make frequent stops along the road to view a variety of plants, insects with Larry Shaw and geology with Lee Shoemaker. Come prepared with plenty of water, hat, sunscreen, and lunch. We will be back by 5 PM.
Meet at 9 AM the Albertson’s at the corner of Santiago Canyon Road and Jamboree Road in Irvine. There we can work out carpools, as the maximum is 15 vehicles. Forest Services passes will be required for those who are driving. This trip is only open to OCNHA and CNPS members and their guests.
Fee: $15.00 per person; includes Guidebook
For reservations, contact Lee Shoemaker at LAshoemaker@cs.com or phone Sarah Jayne (see above)
May 25 (Saturday)—Sulphur Springs, San Gabriel Mountains with Jane Strong
This trip with the San Gabriel Mountains chapter will explore the ecotone where the high desert meets the high mountains. There are several different moist habitats, each with its own assemblage of plants. This area also sports three different kinds of monardellas. For directions, contact Harry Spillman, 626-335-2534 or email@example.com.
COME TO THE RAIN SHADOW!
Join the state CNPS for a weekend with the Bristlecone Chapter, May 31 to June 2
The Bristlecone chapter will host the next quarterly meeting of the CNPS Chapter Council. All CNPS members and their families are welcome! This is going to be a fun event in a beautiful place. We will meet at Camp Inyo at the base of the Sierra near Big Pine. Anyone is welcome at the Saturday Council meeting, where there will valuable information sharing and interesting discussions about native plant issues. Only delegates can vote, but all can participate
Other events planned by the host chapter include:
—A field trip to McMurry Meadow near Camp Inyo on Friday afternoon.
—Dinner Friday evening (Board of Directors will meet after)
—Happy hour and dinner Saturday evening, and presentations on features of the area and on the Flora of the Glass Mountains (by the graduate student working on a thesis there)
—Sunday field trips:
- Juniper Flat in the Inyo Mountains
- Dedecker Memorial Garden and other areas near Independence
- Long Valley and Glass Mountains area
The Bristlecone Chapter will have a plant sale and a display of native plants. And all this in the gorgeous and spectacular rain shadow lands of eastern California. For more information please contact Sherryl Taylor, Vice President of the chapter, at Sherrylt76@aol.com. Please respond by May 15 to help them plan for the field trips, etc. You’ll need to get lodging lined up soon be it motel, bunkhouse, or campground.
This event will be the best way you can spend that weekend!
June 1 (Saturday)—River Park Picnic, 11 AM to 3 PM
The Orange Coast River Park Committee of Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks is once again sponsoring a Picnic in the Park at the Talbert Nature Preserve. The purpose is to highlight the proposed Orange Coast River Park that would extend from the Santa Ana River mouth to Fairview Park.
There will be a variety of activities as well as environmental groups with displays and information. Food and drinks will be provided. Bring a blanket or folding chairs to sit on.
The Talbert Nature Preserve is located on the Costa Mesa side of the river. Parking will be available at the Waldorf School parking lot on Canyon Drive off Victoria Street in Costa Mesa. The walk from Fairview Park is about ½ mile. You may also park at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa and Le Bard Park on Atlanta Avenue in Huntington Beach.
June 7-9 (Friday afternoon to Sunday evening)—Catalina Conservancy Work Party
Volunteer projects may include seed collection, fence removal, non-native plant removal, or restoration of native habitats, depending upon seasonal conditions. The roundtrip boat fare is $42, but except for food, everything else is free. The Laura Stein Volunteer Camp three miles west of Avalon supplies an outdoor kitchen, tents, water, and showers. Bring pillow, sleeping bag, and food.
Departure from Long Beach is at 3:45 on Friday afternoon. The return trip can be scheduled any time after 3:30 PM on Sunday. The group is limited to 10. Please contact Sarah Jayne (see above) if you’re planning to come along.
June 22-23 (Saturday, Sunday)—San Bernadino Mountains, Crab Flat/Green Valley Lake Area
This area in the San Bernadino Mountains offers a wonderful variety of terrains, vistas, and places to hike. In early July last year, lemon lilies and California Dogface butterflies were the stars of the show.
We have been invited once again to the Parker cabin for an overnight stay. This will give us the opportunity to explore in several directions! Up to ten bodies can be accommodated inside, dormitory style, and any number can sleep outside. We’ll bring our own food and share the barbecue with the Parkers.
To get to Crab Flats via Running Springs, take the 55 to the 91 then go straight onto I-215. You can exit on I-10 then take CA-30 to 330 OR you can exit on Highland Avenue that goes to 330. At Running Springs, continue east on 18. After about 2½ miles look for Green Valley Lake Road and make a sharp left. After about 2 more miles, start looking on the left for Crab Flats road. A Forest Service sign CRAB FLATS 4 MILES marks it. This pleasant roller coaster gravel road passes several side roads, and Crab Flats Campground. Finally at a sign with an image of a backpacker, turn left. Shortly after passing Tent Peg Group Campground, go through a gate. The cabin is to the right. Driving time is about 1 hour 45 minutes. Try to arrive by 10 AM. Please rsvp.
June 30 (Sunday)—Back Bay Canoe Trip
Chapter member Todd Heinsma an Upper Newport Bay naturalist, has once again arranged a tour of the Back Bay by canoe for us. Todd will be the ‘lead naturalist’ for the trip as a canoe outing, but the botanical content will be exploratory and informal, a ‘shout it if you know it’ type of thing. We can expect to see plenty of garden escapees and invaders, but we will also see pure stands of upper salt marsh flora up close and a ‘deep inside’ view of the Back Bay as a vital botanical sanctuary amidst suburbia. We will also see resident waterfowl and ones in various phases of northward migration. Fun, fun, fun!
Meet at 9:00 AM at Shellmaker Island, 600 Shellmaker, down the little dirt road that veers left from Back Bay Drive as soon as the marsh begins. Todd will place himself conspicuously in the parking lot 30 minutes before the meet time. There are 9 canoes available, 2 people to a canoe, so the trip is limited to 18 persons. Boats, vests, and paddles are provided gratis. We will all need to sign a waiver at the start. Rsvp
July: A Walk in the San Gabriels with Paul Campbell
Details in the next newsletter.
A word about this year’s “Hills to Gills”
Maybe the dry spring discouraged attendance—only a handful of participants enjoyed the lovely walk up Little Sycamore Canyon, across the ridgeline, and down into Laurel Canyon. Despite the scarcity of annuals, careful searching yielded Dudleya multicaulis and there were promising indications of three mariposa lily varieties for a wetter year. The D. stolonifera was on the point of blooming. We missed you.
Laguna Coast Wilderness: 949-494-9352. For walks in the Northern and Southern Reserves call The Nature Conservancy at 949-832-7478.
Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park: 949-831-2790
Thomas Riley Regional Park: 949-728-3420
Rancho Mission Viejo Land Conservancy: 949-489-9778
Crystal Cove State Park: 949-497-7647
The newsletters of other CNPS chapters are a great resource for native plant information. Some may be read on the CNPS website at cnps.org. Occasionally we publish a particularly interesting article, with permission of the author, of course. In this issue, we have two to share.
The first fills in some facts on Heuchera, which many of us use in on our native plant gardens. Should we? Read on.
by John Whittlesey, Mount Lassen Chapter
CNPS encourages the growing of ‘California native plants’. However, California is such a large state with numerous bioregions, climates, diverse habitats and ecological zones that we are often offered ‘native’ plants from areas unlike that in which we garden. Trying to grow the moisture loving, cool climate denizens from the redwood and coastal forests in our hot interior climate [Chico, Oroville, et al] can be successful but is often difficult, requiring special care and attention to soil and water. My goal as a gardener and nurseryman is to grow appropriate plants: plants from California and other Mediterranean climates that can withstand heat, some drought, and do not encroach on the native habitat.
One particular group of plants I enjoy growing that stretches the term ‘native’ are the hybrid coral bells. These are hybrids of Heuchera maxima, which is native to the Channel Islands, and Heuchera sanguinea, which is a native of Arizona and northern Mexico. They are not mainland California plants, but they thrive in our climate and are beautiful plants to use in the landscape.
Heuchera makes clumps of low rounded leaves (10″ high) from which arise slender stems carrying racemes of small urn-shaped flowers. In these particular hybrids the flowers are especially numerous and are carried on taller stems than usually seen on the coral bells commonly offered at nurseries. They begin to flower in late February and continue into June, if the spent flowers are removed. The cultivar ‘Wendy’, one of my favorites, has pink flowers on 30″-36″ stems.
A number of years ago, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens made crosses from H maxima X H sanguinea and named five cultivars, which are available through specialty nurseries. Besides ‘Wendy’ there is ‘Opal’ with white flowers, rosy?magenta ‘Genevieve’, large red ‘Santa Ana Cardinal’, and red ‘Susanna’. Also available in nurseries is ‘Old La Rochette’ which is a large plant with flowering stems reaching 3-1/2’.
The Heucheras in our hot interior climate appreciate some relief from all day sun. So growing them under large trees with filtered light is ideal, or in a situation with morning sun and some afternoon shade. They will tolerate full sun with frequent water. Heucheras are excellent to plant under oak trees, as the open shade is perfect, and their minimal water requirements compliments that of the oaks.
Propagation is done by cuttings of side shoots in spring or fall, and by division. To maintain healthy plants they are best divided every two to three years preferably in the fall.
The other article speaks of a plant that we all meet in the wild, but seldom if ever in the garden.
Wild cucumbers (Marah)
Original article by Jake Sigg, Yerba Buena Chapter, with modifications for the Marin Chapter by Bob Soost.
“So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea…and when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; and therefore the name of it was called Marah.” Exodus XV. 22
Many people refer to plants of the genus Marah as manroot, a suitable name. I have always preferred the name wild cucumber because of its obvious relationship to the family that gives us our cucumbers, melons, squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and chayotes. There are five species of Marah in California, the most widespread being California cucumber or manroot, M. fabaceus. California cucumber is one of the earliest plants to start growth after the first rains. Its survival depends on this early start while water is available. Growth is exceedingly rapid and you can measure it day-to-day—you can almost see it grow. It needs to do this so that it can climb (by sensitive tendrils) to overtop shrubs and other plants and spread out its blanket of foliage to absorb the sun’s rays. The plant is 99%+ water; break a growing stem and watch the water leak out. Water seems to be its only limiting factor; after the rains stop it goes dormant. Summer drought is seemingly what keeps it in balance in nature. In copiously watered Golden Gate Park, for example, it can be an evergreen pest, smothering shrubs and small trees under blankets of foliage.
This blanket of foliage traps a lot of energy from the sun. Where does the energy go? Into the root, which in this case is a large tuber, a very large tuber. The tuber on older plants can exceed a large man’s size. Sometimes the tuber will divide, appearing to have legs. 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 there. 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.
While I was a gardener in Golden Gate Park there was an unwanted plant growing beside my toolbox. I continually pulled up its new shoots, attempting to starve the root. It showed no signs of giving up after five-and-a-half years so I decided to dig it up. Although not a rival for the RSABG tuber, it was big enough—about three feet long and one foot in diameter. Being deprived of the ability to photosynthesize during that period had had no apparent effect on it. It was firm of flesh and sound in every fiber. Good thing I decided to take that shortcut, otherwise it would have outlasted me.
The name Marah suits it; all parts are exceedingly bitter. Touch your tongue to a cut root and your jaw will lock. This strong a chemical defense indicates potential medicinal use. The cucumber family in California, which includes five species of Marah, Brandegea, and the gourds coyote melon and calabazilla, was a pharmacopoeia, a veritable drugstore for native people. Roots were used as a purgative, as were seeds. Stroughton’s Bitters, a laxative, was made from California manroot. Natives threw crushed root into bodies of water to stun fish and used its seed oil for a variety of purposes. I am unsure what wildlife makes use of this plant, except that rodents and scrub jays cache its seed. You can be sure that there are creatures that have found a use for this common and widespread a plant.
All Marah species have unisexual flowers. The staminate flowers are carried above the foliage in racemes or panicles; the pistillate are borne singularly, hidden under the foliage in leaf axils. Marin County has two of the five Marah species, M. fabaceus and M. oreganus. [Orange County has only one, M. macrocarpus] M. fabaceus is the more common. The staminate flowers of M. fabaceus are rotate (saucer-shaped), those of M. oreganus deeply cup-shaped. The ovary and fruit of M. fabaceus are round, not tapered into a beak and have many rigid, straight spines. In contrast, the ovary and fruit of K. oreganus are ovate, tapered into a beak and have a few flexible spines or none. [The staminate flowers of M. macrocarpus are shallowly cup-shaped. The ovary and fruit are generally rounded at both ends but may have a sharp beak. The prickles are dense and stiff.]
A note on the derivation of its scientific name: Munz in his Flora of California incorrectly states that Marah was from an aboriginal name. Another biblical citation is Ruth 1:20: “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.” Other sources say it is Latin, but perhaps the Romans used the biblical reference for the origin of their word for bitter?