wild cucumber vine
wild cucumber vine
It is not necessary to drive very far out of town to catch sight of an explosion of flowering vines. I have never noticed these particular plants before; if they were around in such great numbers before this summer, I had not noticed. To be honest, I might not have noticed them this year if I had not heard about them on the radio.

What I heard on air is that we are having an invasion of the wild cucumber vine. It grows up other plants - to as high as over 20 feet - and right now is flowering. Each vine is covered with small yellowish-white flowers. After I heard that, I started paying more attention. And sure enough, good examples abound

I decided to find out a little more about it, and that's when I became confused. One site that I found was a short article in Praxis Magazine, in which author Janice Wagar wrote "My vendetta against the wild cucumber." She told about having taken "representative samples of the nasty vines" to agents from the University of Minnesota Extension Office. Wagar was informed that she "had a wild cucumber (Sicyos Angulatus)."

In my quest for more information, I of course Googled that scientific name, and found that the Sicyos angulatus is actually a bur cucumber, not a wild cucumber. The wild cucumber is officially named Echinocystis lobata. And that is according to none other than the University of Minnesota's Extension Office website (Horticulture Yard and Garden Brief). One difference is that the bur cucumber is less common in Minnesota, and it has fuzzy vines, with seedpods that grow in clusters. Each is about one-half to three-quarter inches long and contains a single, flat, egg-shaped seed.

On the other hand, the wild cucumber has smooth vines and the seedpod, or fruit, is slightly larger. The seedpod grows singly instead of in clusters and contains four flattened, spindle-shaped black or brown seeds. The flower shapes are somewhat different, and the wild cucumber blooms earlier.

Due to the map provided at the United States Department of Agriculture's website, the bur cucumber is present only in three small areas of Minnesota, none of which are anywhere close to us and our surrounding counties. On the other hand, the wild cucumber was shown to be present in almost all of the counties.

So I decided to assume that, unlike what Ms. Wagar was told about her plant (that it was a wild cucumber with the scientific name of a bur cucumber), what we have locally is wild cucumber, with its own scientific name. That seems to be confirmed by all of the websites I visited. So that's where I focused my searching.

At the website of MinnesotaWildFlowers.info, the basic information is the same as what I had already read, with the addition of a place for readers to make comments and ask questions. From those posted, I learned that the flowers of the wild cucumber smell great.

Someone asked if the fruit is edible, and the expert answer was that the fruit is not, but the leaves are; stir-fried with a little garlic was called "euphoric." Another reader suggested that the dried vines with the fruits make "great Halloween decorations." That person had hung them in the garage to dry, making cleanup of the seeds, which will fall from the fruit, very easy.

There seemed to be the same uncertainty among readers that I have about whether the real wild cucumber is a problem. Readers commented that they "appear to be consuming trees." Another said she called them the "strangle weed." The expert on the site responded that they are "actually pretty harmless...and live in harmony with their neighbors."

However, to me, the local examples of the wild cucumber do not inspire confidence that it is not already a noxious or invasive weed or could become one.

At the USDA website, the bur cucumber is on the Noxious Weed list for Delaware and Indiana. The wild cucumber is on the Noxious Weed list for Kentucky. So now I am confused again!

I am not going to take any chances. If it gets any closer to our place, I am going to take action. Whether it is the bur or the wild species, the measures to control or get rid of it are the same: "Pull or mow the weeds in the spring as soon as they are found. Repeatedly pulling or hoeing the young plants before they have set seed will reduce the number of seeds in the area over time."

If I do not notice them until they are flowering, I will get right out there and get those pods before they can spread their power all over.

The various websites also include instructions on how to use herbicides to control both types, but I will stick to the pulling or hoeing.

I was appalled to see that people can buy these things at native plant stores. Ms. Wagar, writing in Praxis, described her summer-long war against the plants that were threatening to take over her backyard view. She ended, "The following summer I was visiting my daughter....(who) took me out to see her newest plantings" in her large backyard. "As she led me toward a 'cute little plant' she found near some woods, I was first shocked, then amused to find that my daughter was raising a young wild cucumber."