What do telephone cords and wild cucumbers have in common?

As I was walking along a trail a few weeks ago, I happened to notice a particularly pretty little vine creeping up the dead branches of a tree. I took a picture, and finally got around to figuring out what it was.

Species of the Week: Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata)



The leaves of the wild cucumber vine somewhat resemble bright green maple leaves. The vine climbs up and around whatever it can grab a hold of, and hangs on with stringy tendrils that coil around until they look like telephone cords. See the picture? (Does anyone even still use a corded telephone?  Remember trying to get a reversed loop back in sync with the rest of the cord? Or was that just me? But I digress…)

The flowers are a bit frilly and white, and bloom on long spikes that often stand straight up. Flowers are star shaped with long petals. The fruits of this vine are spiky and bulbous, resembling a small, dangerous watermelon. It is, for once, NATIVE! It is a rather aggressive grower, however, and often considered a weed.


Despite the name, and for those of you hoping to cheaply enhance your tomato salad with a woodland harvest, this is not an edible plant.  In fact, it may even be dangerous to ingest, so don’t try it. Dried seed pods are sometimes used in dried flower arrangements.


As soon as I identify a new plant, all of a sudden I see it everywhere. As I walk through the woods, or look along the edges of the road, all of these previous strangers are now familiar friendly faces. Typically, if someone just points to something and says “that’s such and such,” I’m bound to forget. When I write about a new species here, it’s written in indelible ink on my brain. Welcome to my collection, wild cucumber!







Posted on September 14, 2013, in Species of the week and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. We were walking on a local trail today and saw these as well. Andrew warned us that they were dangerous to eat. He’d read about Squirting Cucumbers in a book and thought that these looked just like the one in the book he had read. It was surprising to see them winding themselves around some low branches.


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