cucumber-vine

Wild Cucumber Vine – Cultivation or Control?

In mid-to-late summer, roadside shrubs and trees across the U.S. seem to burst into bloom with garlands of star-shaped, greenish-white flowers. In many cases, the wild cucumber vines responsible for these flowers nearly engulf their supports. If you like the look, it’s easy enough to work it into your own landscape – but you do so at your own risk.

The Vine

Although a member of the Cucumber (Cucurbitaceae) family, wild cucumber vine isn’t grown as a vegetable. Its stems of light-green, five-pointed leaves grow up to 25 feet in a single summer. Once the vine’s curling tendrils coil around a support, they’re extremely tough to remove. In other words, this isn’t a plant for confined spaces.

The Flowers

Unlike the large, yellow trumpet blossoms of edible cucumber varieties, wild cucumber vines produce 1/2-inch, star-shaped blooms. The male flowers open in airy, 4- to 8-inch clusters. The females open individually or in pairs at the base of the males. After pollination the females’ spiny, swollen stems develop into fruit.

The Fruit

There’s nothing appetizing about wild cucumbers:

  • Soft spines measuring up to 2 inches long cover the 2-inch green fruits.
  • For some people, touching the spines causes a burning sensation.
  • By the time they ripen, the fruits are brown and dry – not exactly something you’d want to pickle or add to a salad!

Expert gardener’s tips:

  • After it dries out, wild cucumber fruit bursts open and ejects the four seeds inside. If you want to stop a vine from spreading, snip off its pods as soon as they appear.
  • Want to grow your own vines? Secure plastic baggies over some of the unripe pods on a wild one to catch its expelled seeds.

Sun and Water

Wild cucumber vines share their cultivated relatives’ need for plenty of water. In their natural habitat, they’re happiest near streams and ponds or in moist bottomlands. Garden cukes need a minimum of six hours of daily sun The wild ones tolerate partial to full sun, with four or more hours each day.

To Plant or Not to Plant?

Wild cucumber makes a great screen for garden eyesores or an attractive addition to fences and arbors. Controlling its spread, however, requires removing seed pods from mid-summer into fall. And never plant a vine near trees or shrubs you don’t want it to climb. Otherwise, it could block their sunlight and keep them from photosynthesizing food.