Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Flowers: Wild Cucumber

I found some interesting seed case skeletons while walking along the Grand River in March and was curious about the plant they came from. Jennifer, from a Passion for Nature identified them for me and I have watched as the wild cucumbers have grown over the past few months.
The scientific name of this native species is Echinocystis lobata and the plant belongs to the cucumber family. (Greek echinos for "hedgehog" and cystis for "bladder," lobata is Latin for "lobed") In our area it is an annual and the vine reseeds itself in the wild. There are other types of wild cucumbers in warmer climates that are perennial plants.


The plant is inedible and all parts of it are very bitter. Historically, it has some medicinal uses.

The pulverized root is used as a poultice for headaches. A very bitter tea brewed from the roots is analgesic and is also used as a love potion. It is used as a bitter tonic for alleviating stomach troubles, kidney ailments, rheumatism, chills, fevers (source).

I read one account of a man who tasted the fruit and then went on to develop a latent poison oak type rash around his mouth that was very painful.

My mother told me she used to collect the dried seed pods during the war and along with the seed pods of the Common Milkweed, they were used for military equipment. The pods can be used in dried flower arrangements and the seeds have been used in native jewellery.

I really wasn't too concerned about finding a use for the plant and just enjoyed watching it develop. The tiny, six-petalled flowers bloomed in August and they looked like white lace along the sides of the trails. A couple of weeks ago, I took the picture of the prickly green fruit. It had already burst open at the distal end and some of the pods had started to dry out.


The vines are now dying back with the recent frosts and these green pods will dry to become interesting skeletons you can pick up next spring when the snows have melted. And the big black seeds will grow again by the river starting a new cycle of flower and fruit production.

10 comments:

  1. I have some of these wild cucumbers growing in my yard too--usually entwined around some evergreen trees, so I'm forever pulling them off.

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  2. I find these interesting. I have seen the cucumbers growing along the Grand River. In one place they have twined themselves around the tree until the tree is barely visible. I imagine they will eventually choke the tree.

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos.

    Blessings,
    Mary

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  3. Yeah! Glad I was able to help with the ID. Nice post!

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  4. I had them growing wildly in Maryland and it was a constant chore keeping them from reaching out and taking over!

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  5. Ruth, how were the seed pods used for military equipment? Sounds fascinating.

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  6. These are such great flowers to find and I had always love finding the seeds in the fall! Happy Flowery Friday to you!

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  7. Anonymous8:38 pm GMT-5

    I am finding the wild cucumber growing along our high chain link fence. They have larger flowers and pods than the Canadian variety but appear to be the same plant. Tropical weather and our volcanic soil might account for the size difference. I am continually battling the wild cucumber and wild morning glories (small and purple) that will take over everything quickly.
    Mexico Mom

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  8. Those are beautiful - have never heard of them.

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  9. RuthieJ- I don't think I would want them in my backyard. They would likely take over.

    Mary from ON- The ones I see are on the flood plain and there are few trees around. I think I would try to save the tree.

    Jennifer- I look forward to learning more from you!

    Mary- You must have lived near a field or damp area. I have never seen then in our sandy neighbourhood.

    AfricaKid- In the post I did on milkweed, I mentioned that the milkweed seeds were used to insulate outerwear and also act as a life preserver in water. From what my mom said, the wild cucumber pods had a similar use, although I cannot find a web link with that info.

    Monarch- The things I am learning in middle age! It's great.

    Mom- There is a perennial Pacific variety of wild cucumber which is also called manroot (the root is huge) The flower and fruit look the same and it apparently blooms in Jan/Feb. I am sure it would require heavy pruning.

    Jean- I think they are too!

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  10. Elizabeth3:39 pm GMT-5

    Thanks for solving this little mystery. I just found some of these today and picked them to put in a glass vase, and then went to google them. Now I know what to look out for when they are still green next summer.

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