The squirting cucumber, sometimes called wild cucumber, piques curiosity by its name alone. It is the only plant in the Ecballium genus and gets its unique name from its explosive, squirting fruits. When ripe or disturbed, their 2-inch prickly fruits, which resemble cucumbers, burst off the vine and spew mucilage-covered seeds up to 20-feet away.
Native to the Mediterranean, you may see these perennial fast-growing plants on roadsides or in waste areas. They are also rapid spreaders thanks to their clever seed-spreading fruits and are often seen as weeds. Their showy display of bursting fruit can be observed during the summer months.
|Botanical Name||Ecballium elaterium|
|Common Name||Squirting cucumber|
|Plant Type||Perennial vine|
|Mature Size||Up to 3 ft. long|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil, but can tolerate poor soil|
|Soil pH||Acid, neutral, alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||8-11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Mediterranean|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and pets|
Squirting Cucumber Care
The squirting cucumber has a mixed past, and was historically used, with great caution, in an herbal remedy for dropsy. Now, however, this plant is not often cultivated due to harsh reactions it can cause in the body. It acts as a strong purgative and, in small doses, it may cause digestive upset, diarrhea, hemorrhaging, and kidney problems. In large doses it is fatal.
However, its poisonous effects do not stop many from growing these unique plants as a curiosity. If you decide to grow this fascinating but toxic vine, be sure to wear protective equipment such as gloves and safety glasses to prevent any skin irritation from occurring, as well as protect your eyes from unexpected seed explosions. These safety measures are also needed when removing squirting cucumbers, since disturbing the plant will result in dislodged fruit and an explosion of seeds. These plants should be kept in an area out of reach from children and domestic animals.
If you would like to grow this plant in your own garden, keep in mind that it can spread rather quickly. Its creeping vines can sprawl out as wide as 3 feet, and its explosive seed-spreading mechanism may cause new squirting cucumber plants to pop up as far as 20-feet away from the parental plant.
Of course, the main hallmark of the squirting cucumber is its explosive fruit. These grow up to two inches in size, are blue-green, and are covered in straight hairs. However, before these infamous fruits appear, the squirting cucumber boasts bell-shaped, yellow flowers much like other cucumber or gourd plants. The leaves of these plants are heart-shaped, toothed, and covered in rough, straight hairs.
The squirting cucumber is a vine, meaning it will sprawl up to 3 feet in width. Though it is a vining plant, it does not have tendrils. This means the squirting cucumber naturally grows as ground cover, rather than climbing upward.
Squirting cucumber demands full-sun to grow well.
Squirting cucumber likes moist, well-drained soil, and though it prefers rich soil conditions, it can tolerate poor soil. These plants are not picky when it comes to soil type or pH.
Temperature and Humidity
This unique plant is native to the Mediterranean and it thrives in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. Typically spotted along roadsides or other uncultivated areas, it is often seen as a weed.
Squirting Cucumber Varieties
Though the leaves and flowers of both the squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium) plant and the cucumber (Cucumis sativus) plant are similar, some key differences allow you to easily distinguish between the two.
Comparing the fruits of the two plants is the most obvious way to distinguish them. The squirting cucumber produces two-inch long fruits covered in straight hairs. They also explode. Regular cucumbers do not explode. Cucumbers also grow to be much longer than two inches, and smooth out before harvesting, losing any hairs they had when young.
The second way to distinguish squirting cucumber versus cucumber plants is by looking for tendrils. The squirting cucumber plant does not have tendrils, while the cucumber plant does. This allows the cucumber plant to vine up onto structures while the squirting cucumber plant remains a ground cover unless supported.
Propagating Squirting Cucumber
Removing a squirting cucumber is easy, though some care needs to be taken. Before attempting, be sure to wear good gardening gloves and eye protection. When you are ready to remove the plant, simply uproot it and discard it.
Even if you would like to grow this fascinating vine in your garden, you may need to uproot unwanted seedlings that pop up from this plant’s wide seed dispersal.
How to Grow Squirting Cucumber From Seed
Potting and Repotting Squirting Cucumber
Common Pests and Diseases
Even if there are no children or animals in your household, that doesn't mean children or animals won't come into contact with your squirting cucumbers. Don't plant them in your front yard where walking children and pets could come across. Be careful as well if planting them in your backyard, since the explosive seeds could end up in a neighbor's yard, where they could be consumed by a child or pet.