Big Root

Marah gilensis

Marah gilensis, pen & ink by Michael Plagens

Big root uses its tendrils to climb into trees and shrubs. It is a member of the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae).

VINE: A climbing vine entirely herbaceous above the ground. The plant grows year after year from a large underground tuber but the above ground portions wither away by late spring.

FRUIT: Spherical and covered with fleshy prickles. Inside are several large, nearly black seeds. On drying the fruit reveals a loose fibrous interior rather like a loufa sponge (same plant family). The example below was observed 14 May 2017, near Bartlett Dam Rd., Maricopa Co., Arizona.

RANGE: Common from 300 m up to 1500 m along riparian streams or within mequite bosques (woodland) in the Upper Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Sonora.

LEAVES: Verdant green leaves have large prominent teeth and appear in early spring as the vine grows up and into trees/shrubs.

FLOWERS: Small, whitish-yellow with five petals.


Harris' Antelope Squirrel predates the large seeds.

Cucurbitaceae -- Cucumber Family

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More Information:

Sonoran Desert Field Guide
Sonoran Desert Places
Sonoran Desert Naturalist Home Page


Copyright Class, page created 3 Feb. 2009,
updated 21 May 2017.