All through the month of August it thrived - green leaves racing up and over the countryside, followed by great swathes of bloom that filled the air with a fugitive sweetness. If you walked (or cycled) down a Wisconsin road this summer, you probably saw it yourself - white waves of wild cucumber blossom, climbing trees, swarming over fences, scaling the sides of barns, spilling up and down banks.
Wild cucumber isn't always this luxuriant - last summer I hardly saw any - but the climatic conditions of 2013 must have been perfect for it.
Like many of the showiest wildflowers, it looks quite delicate when seen up close...
but its delicacy is deceiving, as in one season it can grow 15 to 25 feet, covering entire trees or long stretches of hedgerow by means of its forked, curly tendrils. (In the above photo it's taking over a patch of ragweed - go wild cucumber!)
Like its domesticated cousin, wild cucumber bears fruit, but of a shorter and spinier variety:
Each pod is about 2" long, and should you be tempted to eat it - don't! According to my wildflower book: "Its large fruit smells and tastes like cucumber, but will cause upset stomach and diarrhea."
Perhaps I oughtn't to admire this rather predatory plant, but I do - for its beauty, its tenacity, and its quiet sweet scent. Ruthless though it may seem, wild cucumber's life is short, and the predator soon becomes the prey of time.
Flourishing in August, dying in September, the wild cucumber's fruit will ripen, dry, and burst. Each pod will produce four seeds to lie in wait for spring - for their chance to sprout and climb once more towards the sun.
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Do you admire any plants that are generally considered to be weeds?
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