What Is This Prickly Papery Cucumber-Like Seed Hanging from a Vine in Southern Ontario?

As the leaves fall in autumn, the grape, clematis and Virginia creeper vines become more obvious. Their twisting stalks and dangling fruit attract attention both from me and from migrating birds. The fruit of one kind really caught me eye though. They looked like very prickly green cucumbers but the older ones looked more like prickly paper cucumber lanterns. What were they?

Photo of Wild Cucumber Green on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Wild Cucumber Vines Twine Around Trees

As you may have guessed, the common name for these plants is Wild Cucumber. Like the domestic ones, these plants will climb using tendrils to hold on. Some of the plants I saw this fall were more than 4 metres up in the air clinging determinedly to young trees.

Photo of Wild Cucumber Vine on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Although related to domestic ones, these wild vines aren’t really cucumbers, though. Cukes produce a solid heavy fruit with embedded seeds. These wild ones dry to a hollow papery structure, and according to websites like the Michigan State University Extension one when they are ripe, the dry brown seeds fall out holes in the bottom.

Photo of Wild Cucumber Dry on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Why Have I Never Noticed These Before?

Actually I have. But according to the U of Michigan website, 2013 was a particularly good year for the vines. So you may see more of them this fall than in the past.

They are a native vine, luckily, so an increase in numbers does not signal the arrival of another alien.

Photo of Wild Cucumber Flowers on NaturalCrooksDotCom
Update: I found some still in flower in late October at Marie Curtis park.


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Do you have a favourite fall vine? I like the wild grapes that attract so many birds close to the footpaths where I can photograph them. Please share your views on vines with a comment.

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