|Echballium elaterium is in the |
cucumber family, so it's not surprising
that the fruits look like little cukes
Having just learned that one of the plants in the Cucurbitaceae beds squirted, and knowing full well what a cucumber looks like, I set off to work. But by the time I had made my way down toward the end of the section, about twenty or so minutes later, I had already forgotten Chrissy's warning. With the first snip of my secateurs (pruners), a small cucumber shot out from the foliage it had been hiding under and hit me square in the stomach. Startled, I dropped my pruners and fell backwards, off of my knees and flat onto my rear. I thought, "That's a plant worth writing about."
The exploding cucumber, also known as Ecballium elaterium (1790-624, UCNW), is native to the Mediterranean region. As is true with many Mediterranean natives, this plant prefers well drained (but not dry) soil in a sunny location. However, E. elaterium is adaptable and can handle less than ideal conditions. Although this plant is a perennial in its native region, it is grown as an annual in cooler climates like England and much of North America (USDA hardiness zones 8b to 10a).
|Flower bud, opening bloom, and|
finished flower head of E. elaterium
There is no indication that this plant is in danger of extinction in its natural habitat today, either from the CITES database or the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
E. elaterium was first described in 1824 by Achille Richard, French botanist, doctor, and director of the Benjamin Delessert Herbarium and at Paris' Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle. Several online sources state that the plant is so toxic that a doctor suffered "serious symptoms" when transporting seeds of this plant inside of his hat, from the Jardins de Plantes to his home in Paris. Perhaps that doctor was Achille Richard?
E. elaterium has the same growth habit as a bush cucumber, although the vine does not produce tendrils. The leaves, flowers, and fruits (to an extent) also look like those of a cucumber. However, this plant should not be eaten like a cucumber, because it is poisonous.
|The exploding cucumber makes a|
nice, silvery groundcover that provides
a literal impact factor to any landscape
The exploding cucumber has really nice silvery, densely pubescent foliage and stems. This ground cover would be good when contrasted with plants that have different forms and textures. Perhaps in a large container with a bold, upright 'Sparkling Burgundy' pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa) and a fine, feathery 'Rita's Gold' Boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata). E. elatarium should grow to drape over the edge of the container, showcasing its beautiful foliage and explosive fruits.
This plant has a lot of impact factor -- literally. This would be a fun addition for a home landscape near walkways to startle unwitting guests. However, use with care. This plant is toxic. So although it seems like the perfect, fun addition to a children's garden, it really should not be grown in that situation. Children may confuse the fruits with actual cucumbers, eat them, and become very sick.
So if you're looking for a fun, adaptable annual to try in your garden this year, consider adding the exploding cucumber. Remember to plant responsibly -- this plant shouldn't be grown where children can get a hold of the fruits and eat them, because they could become very sick.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment or send me an email.
To see more photos from this week, be sure to check out the album "Exploding Cucumber" on the Plante on Plants Facebook page. "Likes", shares and comments are appreciated.
All photos and videos were taken by Amanda Plante at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew unless otherwise stated in the caption.
- "Richard, Achille (1794 - 1852)". JSTOR Plant Lives.
- Center for the International Trade in Endangered Species database
- Dave's Garden Plant Files
- Eland, Sue. (2008). "Ecballium elaterium." Plant biographies: A bird's eye view of the planet and man.
- Grieve, M. "Cucumber, Squirting". Botanical.com: A modern herbal.
- Kew's Living Collections database
- The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of threatened species
- The Plant List website
- The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website and staff