Ecballium elaterium
Common Name: squirting cucumber
Type: Vine
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Native Range: Europe, northern Africa, temperate Asia
Zone: 9 to 11
Height: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to August
Bloom Description: Yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Ground Cover, Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Fruit: Showy

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zone 9 where it is easily grown in medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Best in rich soils. Tolerates poor soils. Propagate from seed in spring. Produces flowers and fruits in the first year when grown from seed. This vine lacks tendrils, hence it must be secured to upright supports by the gardener unless it is simply being grown as a groundcover.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Ecballium elaterium, commonly known as squirting cucumber or exploding cucumber, is a frost-tender, weak-stemmed, herbaceous perennial vine of the gourd family that typically grows to 12-18” tall, but clambers and trails along the ground, often in an aggressive sprawling fashion, to 36” wide. It is the sole species of the genus Ecballium. It is native to hot dry areas of disturbed ground, fields, farmland, rocky/stony areas, and roadsides in the Mediterranean region of southern Europe.

This vine is most noted for its prickly, oblong, unusual and distinctive, blue-green fruit pods which mature in fall in a form somewhat resembling a small 3-inch cucumber. Each fruit pod contains many black seeds. The pods explode when ripe, squirting and distributing plant seeds in a sticky mucilaginous liquid to distances of 6-18’ or more.

Foliage and flowers are not particularly attractive in most garden areas. Leaves are bristly, cordate and wrinkled with small lobed margins. Unisexual, bell-shaped, yellow flowers (each flower being either male or female) bloom on the same plant throughout summer. Female flowers are solitary but male flowers appear in short racemes. Female flowers give way to squirting cucumber fruit pods.

Tuberous roots have historically been used over the past 2000 years in the preparation of certain herbal medicines.

Genus name comes from the Greek ekballein meaning to cast out in reference to the explosive discharge of ripe seeds in fall.

Specific epithet is the name of the drug elaterium which is a powerful purgative prepared from plant juices.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Summer ground cover. Along the base of low fencing. Attached to upright support such as a trellis, fence or wall.