Creeping cucumber


Few homeowners know this plant’s name, but many have cursed it. I’ve heard people describe it as that vine with the baby watermelons. Creeping cucumber or Guadeloupe cucumber are two of its most common names.

This delicate-looking vine (Melothria pendula) is far from timid. It has a growth rate almost comparable to kudzu. I’ve even had people bring it to me asking if it was kudzu. Some have inquired as to its edibility.

That’s a loaded question. According to the state of North Carolina it is poisonous, but many sources list it as edible. I’ve eaten a lot of it, so it can’t be but so poisonous.

There is one rule of thumb foragers should not ignore. Only eat small quantities initially. In this case make sure fruits are young and firm. They taste like cucumbers and can be eaten raw like berries. They’re great in salads. Vines are aggressive, so short supply is seldom a concern.

Older fruits will taste somewhat bitter, so you likely wouldn’t eat many anyway. Upon making the decision to ignore that advice you wouldn’t have to worry about irregularity for a while. Other than diarrhea I can find no other toxicity symptoms, but that alone can be sufficient to discourage most people. I have also found no sources that can pinpoint the toxicity to any compounds. Alkaloids and saponic glycosides are sometimes mentioned as being present but never implicated as dangerous.

The seedy fruits turn yellow and then nearly black upon maturity. Once they reach this stage they are extremely bitter, so toxicity shouldn’t be a problem for sane people. If they taste bitter spit them out. I suppose strong vinaigrette dressing and other flavors of a salad could complicate this.

Creeping cucumber is a perennial vine so it is important to identify individual plants for eradication. That sounds simple but it also spreads profusely by seed. Birds love the tiny fruits even when they are totally unpalatable to humans.

Delicate stems and soft English ivy-shaped leaves with tendrils can envelop shrubs in short order. Tiny yellow flowers look like cucumber or watermelon blooms and it’s easy to tell which are male and which are female just as it is on domestic types.

Those who have it want desperately to rid themselves of this uninvited guest. It covers anything, from vines to vinyl siding. It even grows underneath the siding. It can slither through any imaginable crack or crevasse.

We can’t blame this one on the Europeans or the Asians. This little devil is native. Control is difficult. Chemicals such as Round-up are effective early, but once this vine grows on your plants the only recourse is hand weeding.

The real funny, or from my perspective, tragic part of the story is that some nurseries and seed companies actually sell this plant as an ornamental. People flock to buy it just as they do trumpet vine, ironweed, ornamental deadnettle and Bradford pears. The next thing you know someone will develop ornamental dandelions or market spur weed as a ground cover.

creeping cucumber

Thick stand of creeping cucumber.

creeping cucumber

creeping cucumber vine on crape myrtle

creeping cucumber

ripe fruit

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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21 Responses to Creeping cucumber

  1. I find it very intresting that people would buy this weed as a ornamental plant. They are very common around here, normally growing on the corn feilds. You normally see them growing along the side covering the sides of the feild, tho they’ll grow anywhere like you said, have some at my work place and more growing up from underneith of my backdeck. Mom doesnt like them covering her bushes, so bye tho go. Never thought of eating them till now.. hmm

  2. Would this plant be able to live in room tempature and still bare a minimal amount of cucumbers?

  3. ive seen this plant before i just never knew its name. ive always thought that the little watermelon looking things were posioness.

  4. I’ve seen this plant before. I remember someone eating them too, I guess they taste pretty good if you have the guts to eat them.

  5. amandawensel says:

    this plant is a pain to get rid of, its all over the bushes we have in our front yard and every time we get rid of them they are there again as if we never removed them. i did not know these were edible or even cucumbers, i always thought they were miniature watermelons rather than cucumbers.

  6. I didnt know that these were cucumbers i thought they were just little seeds that did not matter.

  7. tjones123 says:

    i like the name of this plant. the plant has interesting leaves and other features.

  8. sbright16 says:

    I nere would of guessed that was a cumber by looking at it because it just looks like a vine that would just grow on trees.

  9. I remember seeing this outside in class ! They smell like cucumbers !

  10. I’m not a big fan of eating cucumbers but i have seen people eat these before. That’s pretty wild how they grow like a vine on trees and other plants.

  11. donnashawna says:

    I Never heard of creeping cucumbers but they sound like they taste good because i love cucmbers. And that is crazy how they can grow off o vine just like a grapes another vegs and fruits.

  12. cjbvans says:

    Interesting that they are so small but taste like cucumbers. I have never tried it or even heard about it until now. Deff don’t want to try to much knowing that they are poisonous.

  13. i remember someone in class asking you about this plant and you eating this

  14. i think its cool, how this plant is to be eatin but it is used for a decorative plant. really a two uses plant.

  15. zachvanett says:

    week 13 teen make up i like thatr u can eat it and it is decorative plant

  16. zachvanett says:

    ist cool that they tatse like cucumbers

  17. I’ve eaten cucumbers before but I wouldn’t wanna try this and it be bitter tasting. But it’s amazing how plants grow so fast and the small spaces they can get in

  18. curtis24 says:

    vine with the baby watermelons. Creeping cucumber or Guadeloupe cucumber are two of its most common names.Older fruits will taste somewhat bitter, so you likely wouldn’t eat many anyway. Upon making the decision to ignore that advice you wouldn’t have to worry about irregularity for a while. According to the state of North Carolina it is poisonous.

  19. marti says:

    This is a vicious, aggressive vine. It smothered a beautiful crepe myrtle in neighbor yard. The roots we dug up were over inch diameter and yards long (unattended for years in their yard). Ornamental? Similar to Poison Ivy being ornamental.

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