Cucumber of the Woods

Magnolia cucumber leaf, seed pods and seed (photo by Kate St. John)
Magnolia cucumber leaf, seed pods and seed (photo by Kate St. John)

While hiking last Sunday I found this leaf and two fruit pods at Moraine State Park.  I walked past them three times before I paused to marvel at their size and color — and then I picked them up.

The leaf is larger than my outstretched hand (9 inches).  The seed pods are lumpy with bright red-orange seeds.  The one on the right has ripened to a waxy rose-pink.  The lefthand pod is overripe.  Its skin is drying and the seeds are falling out.

These specimens fell from a Cucumbertree, also known as a Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata), the most winter hardy of all magnolias.  It grows wild all the way to southern Canada but is found only as a single tree here and there in the woods.  In the spring its flowers are two inches long and green, not showy.  After pollination they form dark green seed pods that look like cucumbers and gave the tree its name.

Cucumber magnolia in summer (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve never seen the green “cucumbers.”  They’re always at the top of the tree.  What I do see are their ripened forms which would have stayed in the canopy except for the work of chipmunks and squirrels.

Last Sunday the squirrels and chipmunks were climbing trees and biting off the stems of fruits and nuts, letting them drop to the ground to be gathered later.  My hike was punctuated by a random rain of acorns, hickory nuts and these large heavy fruits.  I was lucky I wasn’t hit.

Instead I’ve left behind a disappointed squirrel whose food I collected from the North Country Trail.

(photo of fruits by Kate St. John, photo of tree from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

6 thoughts on “Cucumber of the Woods

  1. Tisk, tisk, plundering that poor squirrels lunch. And you even have the audacity to complain when Seagulls do the same thing. 😉

  2. I just got back from a walk in South Park where I saw one of these fruit pods. I may not have even noticed it or stopped to look at the tree from which it fell if I hadn’t seen your blog. Thank you for all of your timely information. I always learn a lot from it.

    1. Joe, probably not a hybrid Magnolia x soulangeana. What I saw was not cultivated — as the hybrids have to be here in Pennsylvania. I’ve not seen the hybrids grow wild. It’s been three years since I took that photo of the Cucumber Magnolia’s fruit. Perhaps I will try to re-find that tree and take more photos of it. It would be interesting to see more of its characteristics.

  3. Thank you. We have that tree in our yard. My two and a half year old was asking what it is. I was happy to finally give him an answer.

  4. Your post has been most helpful! We live about 6 miles from Moraine. Couldn’t find online pics that matched like yours do. Strange pods. Seeds that pop out look like orange M&Ms!

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