coastal manroot, Marah oregana, Canada’s rarest and most threatened plant species

2017 May 25 photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Canada’s rarest and most threatened plant species, with only one viable populations on a steep ridge above Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island, is,

coastal manroot, Marah oregana (Cucurbitaceae – Cucumber family).

2017 May 25 photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

This is the more northerly of the six manroot species and this particular population is the most northerly occurrence of this species. Manroot have large perennial roots that live for centuries, can take two decades to become reproductively mature, and require two roots to reproduce (like any good cucumber!), and is relatively rare. On Salt Spring Island, the 3 to 6 metre vines extend from the roots every April and dry out and disintegrate by the time that the cucumber fruit mature in September. Unless most other cucumbers, the seeds are relatively large and heavy. From the Gulf and San Juan Islands this species occurs sporadically near the coast as far south as the mountains of Los Angeles County.

2017 May 25 photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

At the northern end of this species’ range, the Salish cultivated this wild cucumber and used the fruit as one of their most powerful anti-viral medicines — crucial after the coming of syphilis.

This population remains unprotected. This population above Fulford Harbour was declared ‘endangered’, federally, in 2009 but the Harper Cabinet could not bother to give it legal protection. A few years ago, one of the landowners for this area bulldozed some of the old roots but the population is hanging on and shifting down the hill above Fulford Community Hall.

2017 May 25 photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

 

2018 June 5 coast manroot, Marah oregana, on Salt Spring Island late in the flowering period along with fruiting at various phases, photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

 

2018 June 5 coast manroot, Marah oregana, on Salt Spring Island late in the flowering period along with fruiting at various phases, photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station