Yard & Garden Report


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Cucumber vs. Tree

Wild cucumber is thriving this summer. Its vines grow aggressively and can smother trees.

Wild cucumber
Wild cucumber has aggressive vines, delicate flowers and fascinating fruits.

While walking along a stream last week I saw a tree adorned with delicate, white flowers. A closer look revealed the flowers were from a wild cucumber vine that was growing on top of the tree. The vine’s stems were wrapping around the tree’s branches and trying to smother the tree.

Warmer than normal temperatures this summer have led to many sightings of wild cucumbers across our state. Its vines grow quickly—over 25 feet long in one summer! In some cases, the vines will climb over trees and weaken them.

Its spiny fruits are absolutely fascinating. Don’t eat them—they may be toxic—but how could anyone eat a prickly fruit like this anyhow? Instead, the fruits are often used in floral arrangements.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is native to North Dakota and usually found in moist areas such as along streams, lakes and in ditches.

The vines are aggressive but easy to control. Cut the plant at its base before its fruits ripen and drop their seeds to the ground. If you can’t wait for frost to kill this annual vine, dicamba or glyphosate will kill it.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. 

Mahr, S. 2010. Wild cucumber, Echinocystis lobata. University of Wisconsin-Extension Master Gardener Program. 

Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Peter M. Dzuik and Katy Chayka, www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/wild-cucumber/; Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org.

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