Sep 17 2013

Cucumbers: Wild And Bur

Published by at 6:20 am under Plants

Wild Cucumber (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Pumpkins, zucchini, yellow squash, gourds, the members of the Cucurbitaceae family are ripe and ready to eat in North America.

In Pennsylvania's moist thickets you'll also find wild and bur cucumbers ... but don't eat them!

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is an annual vine that can be unruly at this time of year. After a summer of growing, climbing and blooming it has thrown its tendrils around trees and over bushes.  Its spiny cucumber fruits hang at intervals along the vine waiting to dry out and explode the seeds in all directions.

The seeds take up a big part of the fruit as you can see from this sliced one.   I wonder if any animals eat this...
Wild cucumber, opened (photo by Dianne Machesney)


A look-alike plant with even smaller, spikier fruits is the Bur cucumber (Sicyos angulatus).  Its clustered "cucumbers" aren't edible and frankly look dangerous because the ratio of spines to fruit is a lot higher.
Bur Cucumber (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Newcomb's Wildflower Guide separates these plants by their flower parts but there are other hints as well:

  • Wild cucumber has six petals, Bur has five.
  • Wild has smooth stems. Bur has sticky hairs on its stem.
  • Wild has deeply lobed leaves. Bur has broad, heart-shaped leaves.
  • Wild's fruits hang separately. Bur's fruits are in clusters.
  • Wild's fruits are about the size of the leaves (can be 2"). Bur's fruits are small.

Dianne and Bob Machesney found the wild ones at the Butler-Freeport Trail and burs at Green Cove in Washington County.

If you want to eat a cucumber, go for the real thing in the garden or grocery store.  It's been cultivated for 3,000 years.


(photos by Dianne Machesney)

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Cucumbers: Wild And Bur”

  1. Mary Ann Pikeon 17 Sep 2013 at 9:00 am

    Wild Cucumber is one of my favorite vines…the scent of the flowers is heavenly. I’ve found it growing in Boyce Mayview Park. I would love to try to get it to grow in my yard. I’ve never seen the Bur Cucumber, so I’ll have to be on the look out for it.

  2. Pat Smithon 29 Oct 2014 at 9:20 pm

    My son just bought a house in the Morningside area of Pittsburgh and I was helping him clean up around the house. In the front yard I found a bur cucumber vine completely covering and choking a large beautiful fire bush nearly to death. I rescued it just in time. I had never in my life encountered such a plant and was totally unprepared for its disgusting thorny bristles that actually stuck to and went through my gloves! I finally used multiple sheets of newspaper to grab and rip out the vines. This is a horrible and invasive weed! I can hardly believe that I actually saw bur cucumber seeds for sale on a couple websites! It should not be grown or encouraged to grow, because if left go it would completely choke out all other vegetation near it.

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