Late in the Summer if walking in the open woods or an abandoned field, you may notice a plethora of white flowers on top of a small tree or shrub. It will be identifiable as a vine, and may be draped over the weeds/grass or prairie (that is how I first noticed it). These upright white flowers will have 5 point palmate leaves too, and be very long (25′ / 8 m). Congratulations! You’ve just discovered Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata).
This large vine is an annual and native to North America. It can be considered a nuisance or weed as it climbs over everything. It makes a spiked fruit that contains a few seeds. The flowers are quite noticeable but I would not consider them showy.
Wild Cucumber Facts
- It is native to North America except for the Gulf Coast, South Carolina, California and Nevada per the USDA – so quite prolific!
- Wild Cucumber can completely cover all vegetation in a 12′ diameter!
- It is slow to start growing, not becoming too noticeable until late Summer in August/September
- The fruit is not edible
- Wild Cucumber is an annual, meaning it only lives for one growing season
- It has become an invasive species in some parts of Europe
The Scientific Name of Wild Cucumber is Echinocystis lobata
Stalk / Stem
A climbing, sprawling vine that can reach 25′ (8 m) in length (but more often 10-12′ in length (4m) ). There will be tendrils on the vine that curl around anything and everything that allows it to climb and reach sunlight.
Almost resembling a Maple Leaf, there are 5 lobes that are triangle shaped. The leaves are medium to dark green. And, the leaves will have a triangle shaped void at the base where it attaches to the vine. Leaves are 5-7″ wide & long, width often being the same as the length in size.
The vine has both male and female flowers. Male flowers are the more noticeable, in that they have erect white petals. You will most likely see these or the leaves covering some other vegetation you are used to seeing.
The individual flowers are small relative to the plant, being only about 3/4″ wide (9 mm). But the white petals from the male flowers are long and slender, making up for the small diameters. The flowers do have a very pleasant aroma.
After blooming, fruits will form (the non-edible cucumber) and contain several seeds.
The first time I became aware of this plant was in the Fall, while hunting on a farm. I came across these strange soft, but spikey bags and had absolutely NO CLUE what they were! I asked the internet, and promptly got my answer that it was Wild Cucumber, Echinocystis lobata
Growing Conditions of Wild Cucumber
The preference is for full sun in moist areas. However, it will also grow in partial shade, shadier spots in attempts to reach sun. It appears to grow in most soil types, and can become weedy.
How to care for Wild Cucumber
Well, if you are trying to grow this plant – give it sun and a moist area to throw roots down! Nature will take care of the rest.
Wild Cucumber Control – How to Kill Wild Cucumber
Unfortunately, the most effective means of control for Wild Cucumber repeated mowing or pulling the vines before they go to seed. The seeds are pretty tough, so you don’t want to compost them. Better to burn or discard them in the garbage.
Due to the size of Wild Cucumber Vine, spraying with herbicides is likely to do significant damage to any plants it is climbing. So, avoid chemicals, and just pull them.
How to Grow Wild Cucumber from Seed
Seeds of Wild Cucumber require at least a two-month cold/moist stratification period prior to germinating. Alternatively, you can winter-sow the plants. But seeds should be planted approximately 1/2″ (12 mm) deep, similar to regular cucumbers.
I have no use for this plant in my gardens. But, if you have a need for a 25′ long vine that flowers for a couple of months, then Wild Cucumber is for you!
The flowers are mainly pollinated by bees/flies. There will be many flowers, so this can serve as a good food source.
Pests and diseases
Deer generally avoid this plant. So, it is deer resistant.
Wild Cucumber is susceptible to many of the same diseases as common Cucumbers. Sometimes resulting in localized population collapse.
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