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Wild cucumber

Rampant wild cucumber near roadside ditches.

There is a timing for all plants including weeds to be conspicuous at a certain season in natural landscape. In autumn, one such attractive weed that has begun to catch attention in southeast Wisconsin is wild cucumber (echinocystis lobata).

Native to Wisconsin, wild cucumber is a fast-growing annual vine that grows along roadsides, ditches, streams and riverbeds. This climbing vine forms dense patches of entangled leaves and tendrils that can engulf large trees and shrubs and can grow to a potential of about 25-30 feet in a season. Luckily, this vine dies off in the fall.

During late summer, wild cucumber produces greenish-white blossoms that adorn the tops of trees and shrubs. The leaf of wild cucumber looks like maple, with five triangular pointed lobes, and has three forked coiling tendrils that arise from the leaf axil. In fall, it produces inflated green oblong fruit pod with spines on its skin. However, the fruit is nonedible and when it ripens the pod turns papery brown and cracks at the bottom to drop its seed. Its attractive pods are used for dry flower arrangements, but be careful of its spines.

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Though wild cucumber is a native species, its aggressive nature can smother other desired plant species in natural areas. Spraying with herbicides can be difficult, due to potential drift injury on desired plants. One of the best ways to control is to find its main stem that arises from the ground and severe it close to the ground. Another similar species to wild cucumber, but less common, is bur cucumber. Next time, when you spot an aggressive vine with a creamy green flower, take a closer look to check for wild cucumber.

For more gardening information or plant health related questions, contact: Racine County UW-Extension, 262-886-8451, mastergardeners@racincecounty.com; Kenosha County UW-Extension, 262-857-1942, mastergardeners@kenoshacounty.org.

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Vijai Pandian is a horticulture educator for UW-Madison Extension in Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee counties.

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