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Results tagged “cucurbitaceae”

Feb 18, 2015: Alsomitra macrocarpa

Alsomitra macrocarpa

Tamara Bonnemaison is again the author for her series. She writes:

The third species to make into the exceptional seeds series is Alsomitra macrocarpa. Scott Zona@Flickr photographed this amazing winged seed at the Bogor Botanical Garden in Indonesia. Scott posted this lovely text along with his photo (follow link to read his whole quote): "I was transfixed as I watched dozens of winged seeds of Alsomitra macrocarpa glide to the ground in broad, lazy spirals. The seeds spilled out from a fruit hanging on the liana climbing on one of the enormous old trees in the garden. All the principles of aerodynamics as they relate to seed dispersal were manifest in that one lovely moment."

In an article published by the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, today's photographer Scott Zona describes wind dispersal in seeds. Although different plants use different strategies, explains Zona, all wind-dispersed species are aiming to maximize their time aloft, which directly increases their dispersal distance. Some species use parachutes or plumes to float along air currents. Others are so small and light that they become a part of the fluid movements of air. The third strategy is to develop wings, and no seed has wings that can rival those of Alsomitra macrocarpa, or mitra.

A member of the squash family, mitra is a long liana that grows up into the canopy of the forests of Java, Indonesia. It is quite famous for its 13cm wide, gliding seeds that have inspired a number of aircraft builders. The seeds of the mitra have the ability to remain stable during flight, despite having no moving parts to adjust to changes in air current or other disturbances. This characteristic was noticed by the aircraft developer Igo Etrich, who developed the Etrich Taube, one of the world's first gliders and the first military aircraft to be mass produced in Germany. The wings of the Taube provided excellent stability for the aircraft, making it well-suited to observational flights. The Alsomitra macrocarpa seeds in flight look like little aircraft--you can watch them soar over the Javan tree canopy in this short BBC video: Vine seeds become "giant gliders".

Aug 13, 2012: Marah oregana

Marah oregana

Marah oregana has been in the local news recently, so I thought I'd feature it. Its 6cm-long cucumber-like fruit correctly suggests it is in the same family as cucumbers, squashes and watermelons. Tendrils, another characteristic pointing to Cucurbitaceae (though not exclusively so), can be seen in these photographs of Marah oregana from 2003.

Like all Marah species, Marah oregana is western North American in distribution; the species ranges from southwest British Columbia to northern California. The small population in British Columbia represents the northernmost extent of the genus, while other species push the range of the genus south into northwestern Mexico and east into New Mexico. One member of the genus was previously featured on BPotD: Marah fabacea. That entry contains a link ("whopping one") to the reason for the common name of manroot for the genus, but here's another photograph of a Marah tuber if you don't want to dig for it. Marah oregana is commonly called coast(al) manroot, and given the size of the tubers, I suspect individuals have the largest underground biomass of any individual non-woody plants in British Columbia (but I'm happy to be corrected) and perhaps even Canada.

Eighteen individuals are known to exist in the wild in Canada. The reason the species has been in the news is because a decision was made to not list the species as endangered under Canada's Species At Risk Act. For the story, see: Coast manroot fails to catch Kent's eye: Environment minister rejects committee's suggestions for endangered species list. The noted committee is COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, "a committee of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada". In November 2009, COSEWIC assessed Marah oregana as endangered (see the Marah oregana Assessment and Status Report (PDF)). On July 4, 2012, the decision behind the Order not to add the species to SARA was posted.

As an aside, many references use Marah oreganus for the name instead of Marah oregana; USDA GRIN taxonomists and the 2nd Edition of The Jepson Manual have switched the gender to the feminine, in accordance to the classical gender of the Hebrew name Marah.

Feb 28, 2011: Marah fabacea

Marah fabacea

Botany Photo of the Day work-study student Claire Fadul wrote today's entry:

Damon Tighe (Damon Tighe@Flickr) of Oakland, California took this exquisite photograph of Marah fabacea in Fremont, California, and shared it via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. Thank you Damon!

I found Marah fabaceus, a native of California, a fitting remembrance of my recent trip to San Francisco for reading break (Marah fabaceus var. arestis is the specific Bay Area variety). This photo certainly evokes the warm, sunny, early spring weather I experienced there and the abundance of blooming flowers all over Golden Gate Park. I wouldn't be surprised if I glanced over one of these around the city as this perennial begins growth in December and flowers as early as January!

Being in Curcurbitaceae, which is also the family containing pumpkins, melons, and gourds, Marah fabacea is the most common of seven species in this genus of wild cucumbers (also called manroots). Wikipedia states that its wide range--nearly the entire span of California--encompasses that of all other native species of Marah in California, and hybrids between species are relatively frequent.

These wild cucumbers have a number of interesting structural features from roots to leaves, and were commonly used by the native peoples of California. For example, the seeds inside the fruit were once used as beads for jewelry or ground down for a cosmetic mascara. The roots of Marah fabacea (aptly called manroot due to their tuberous and fleshy appearance resembling that of a human foot), aid the plant after fires by sending up young shoots when surface vegetation has died. Here's a whopping one I found, by photographer and landscape architect Paul Furman.

Marah fabacea is monoecious and the delicate flowers that can be seen in the photo are male (from what I can tell with my limited knowledge) due to their bunching structure. The female flowers are borne on a single stem and a spiky ovary is visible below the flower (i.e., it is epigynous). This small spiky ovary will eventually become the cucumber-like fruit. Sadly, Marah fabaceus does not produce a pleasant snack--the prickly fruit is poisonous.

Daniel adds: Regarding the name, some excellent references state Marah fabacea (International Plant Names Index, Tropicos, GRIN), while others suggest Marah fabaceus (The Plant List, USDA PLANTS database, and most others). I chose the former, as that seems to be the originally published name.

Sep 22, 2010: Pumpkins of New Brunswick Botanical Garden

Pumpkins of New Brunswick Botanical Garden

On vacation, so only a photograph taken last year at the entrance to the New Brunswick Botanical Garden. No pumpkins in that location this year, but the garden does have a live webcam of their giant pumpkin.

More about giant pumpkins via Wikipedia and Oregon State University: How to Grow Giant Pumpkins.

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