This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Plants are commonly divided into annuals and perennials, but under these names are many separate classes. A strawberry, for instance, is regarded as a perennial, but there is probably never any part of a strawberry plant that is more than a year old. New leaves, new buds, new stems, new roots are produced every year, and all of the past die away as soon as the new series is fairly formed. Then there are other perennials, trees, which have an enduring trunk above ground, and again others which if not possessing perhaps perennial "roots," have at least what are called such, the roots being rather perennial underground trunks, which increase from year to year in size as ordinary tree trunks do above the ground. Sometimes these underground roots reach an enormous size, often to an extent that is quite remarkable. In the western portions of our country some of the Cucurbitaceae, or the cucumber family, take on this huge underground growth. On the plains of Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado the writer has collected specimens of a real cucumber, Cucumis perennis, which has roots as large as a wheelbarrow.
It may be said that wheelbarrows are of various sizes, so are these roots, and we do not feel that any one will go wrong if they form their own ideal of what the illustration should convey. The true cucumbers have fleshy fruits, but there are some Cucurbitaceae which have dry fruit, and in this last section they have in California a plant called Megarrhiza Californica, which has an underground stem rivalling that of the perennial cucumber, and known from its huge size as the "Big-root." Like many in this section of the cucumber family it has a prickly fruit, as seen in our illustration.
But a very interesting feature is in the seeds. In most Cucurbitaceous plants, the cotyledons or seed lobes push up from the ground and expand into green leaves. All who have watched cucumbers or pumpkins grow know how this is. There are other things, peas for instance, which do not change the form of their seed lobes, but let them remain under ground, while the young stems themselves push up above ground. This cucumberite is remarkable as behaving like a pea, and not as ordinary cucumbers.
Again, this sturdy fellow has a will of its own in the way the seeds grow. Any one who has watched monocotyledonous seeds grow knows that the seed does not split as in beans, but what appears a rootlet, pushes out from this apparently solid seed mass, and the young plantlet pushes out afterwards from this apparent rootlet. Asparagus, Indian corn, onions, or such things, will show this, though often the plumule, the part which makes the stem, starts to grow soon after leaving the caulicle. In some plants, especially in the Musaceae or Banana family, there is an inch or more between the cotyledonary mass, and the point from whence the foliaceous growth springs The Megarrhiza is remarkable in this that while being a dicotyledon, its manner of germination is like the monocotyledons.
Beside all these anomalies which will make the plant very welcome to those who love to watch the various processes of nature, the beauty of the vine and its rapid growth will make it very acceptable for the summer decorations of our gardens. Though a California plant we are indebted to the enterprise of an energetic German firm, Haage & Schmidt, of Erfurt, for its wide dissemination to lovers of flowers. We shall no doubt see it growing in many gardens this summer, from seed which they have distributed among the firms which deal with them. Our sketch shows the fleshy seed, and the spike of male flowers alongside of the globular female one and which form the young fruit.