Momordica charantia
Common Name: balsampear
Type: Annual
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Native Range: Tropics
Zone: 2 to 11
Height: 12.00 to 20.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to August
Bloom Description: Yellow flowers and green to yellow to red fruits
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Annual, Vegetable
Flower: Showy
Fruit: Showy, Edible

Culture

Rich, humusy, well-drained soils in full sun. Loves high heat. Best grown on a support structure such as a fence or trellis. Although it may be allowed to sprawl along the ground, its ornamental display of attractive foliage, flowers and fruit will be lost. Plants are generally grown like cucumbers. Start seed indoors (best in peat pots which decompose in the soil because seedlings dislike being transplanted) about 4 weeks prior to last spring frost date. Plant seedlings outside about the same time as tomatoes are typically planted. Plants will die in fall at the time of first fall frost.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Momordica charantia, commonly called bitter-melon or ampalaya, is a vigorous, tendril-bearing, frost tender, annual vine of the cucumber family that will grow rapidly to 12-20’ long in a single growing season. It is native to tropical and sub-tropical parts of Asia and Africa. It was introduced into Hawaii where it has naturalized on several of the islands.

Rounded dark green leaves (1-4” diameter) have 3-7 deep palmate lobes with sharply toothed margins. Gourd-like yellow flowers (1” diameter) with 5 spreading petals bloom from the upper leaf axils in summer. Flowers are followed by cylindrical, torpedo-shaped, warty fruits (4-8” long) with wrinkled surfaces that ripen from green to yellow to orange at which point they split into three curling segments revealing the inner seed surrounded by showy scarlet pulpy arils. Ripe fruits are ornamentally attractive but malodorous.

Young fruits (green or early yellow colored) are a popular vegetable consumed in SE Asia, India, China and Japan. Red mature fruit and seeds are toxic and should not be eaten. Leafy shoot tips are often used as salad greens.

Plants have a long history of use as an herbal medicine.

Genus name comes from the Latin word mordeo meaning to bite, possibly because the seeds of these tropical climbers appear bitten.

Specific epithet is of unclear origin and meaning.

Common name of bitter-melon is in reference to the fruits which are edible but bitter tasting.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Annual vine with ornamentally attractive foliage, flowers and fruits should be grown on a support structure (trellis, arbor, fence or against a wall). Fruit may be harvested.