See September 2012 for column on four invasive plant species.
|Immature seed pod next to male flowers|
The species name is Echinocystis lobata. It is a fast-growing annual propagated by seeds. This vine can blanket low plants or tendril its way 15-20 feet up trees. During July and August the slender vines display white flowers, followed by the development of seed pods that superficially resemble a small, spiky cucumber. Once the seed pods mature they dry out and disperse from the bottom several large black seeds the size of pumpkin seeds. Echinocystis dies with the first frosts of fall.
|Swathe of wild cucumber next to Assabet River Rail Trail|
|Lobate leaves, tendrils, and vertical spikes of male flowers, Echinocystis|
The name comes from Echino for spiny and cystis for bladder-like in appearance. Lobata refers to the shape of the leaves.
Echinocystis is native to the central, eastern and northern states, up into Canada. It is not found in southern California, but confusingly, there are related plants in California and Baja California (Mexico) that also go by the common name wild cucumber.
The latter are in the family Marah. These are also fast-growing vines with tendrils and seed pods that superficially resemble a spiky cucumber, but Marah are perennials, each year's new growth sprouting from a huge tuberous root that can weigh more than 100 pounds.
|Maturing wild cucumber seed pods|
|Spiked seed pods dry from the bottom up, then peel|
apart. The mature seeds (dark color) fall to the ground.
The dry, brown pods remain attached to the vine.
And not all invasive species are plants. Some of the most damaging to have made the crossing from North America to
|Dead wild cucumber vines, with seed pods|
These photos taken along a 1200 foot long section of rail trail in Maynard, MA. What's noteworthy is how fast the wild cucumber went from not present at all to overwhelming other growth. Within five years it went from a plant or two to a major nuisance in the areas of partial to full sunlight. It does not do well in deep shade.
By spring, last year's vines will have rotted under winter's snow. First plants to appear on this part of the trailside include pokeweed and Japanese knotweed. The wild cucumber vines don't really take over until July
UPDATE: Rail Trail construction in Maynard in 2017 has made it easy to visit the wild cucumber patch, just north of the 1.50 mile marker.
I found your writing with a Google image search today. Thanks for the explanation. I took a photo of these same wild cucumbers (Lobata) growing in a northern IL forest preserve last summer. Then while reading a similar description of a spiny cucumber in a book about Kalahari Bushman, I wondered if this could be the same plant. The Bushman dug it's edible root (perhaps the Marsh variety) for its sustaining liquid during the driest season (according to the book "The harmless people" by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, p106). M. Ball-Harrison.ReplyDelete
I am not a botanist, but cannot believe that a species native to northern North America is same as one found in southern Africa.ReplyDelete
This vine first appeared on the linear trail behind my house. It now covers 25% of the forest. I'm using my machete to get rid of it..ReplyDelete
Wild cucumber is an annual (new plants from seed every year). Key to control is cutting or pulling up from roots before the seed pods mature. Seeds are viable for several years, so effort needed several years in a row to contain or eradicate.ReplyDelete
This has appeared in my strawberry veggie bed in AustraliaReplyDelete
Have yyou ever dug up the root? It is massive! I wish I could attach a pic here but I am estimating it weighs 40 pounds. It looks like a giant potatoe, maybe 5 times my head.ReplyDelete
The plant in eastern U.S. is an annual. It is not the same species as Marah, which is a large-rooted perennial found in western U.S.ReplyDelete
I meant to add that both are informally called wild cucumber because the fruit look similar.ReplyDelete
Are they edible?ReplyDelete
No. Not for people and not for animals. There is some mention of indigenous peoples making a medicinal tea from the roots.ReplyDelete