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Extension > Garden > Yard and Garden > Weeds > Wild cucumber and bur cucumber

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Wild cucumber and bur cucumber

Beth R. Jarvis

Wild cucumber and bur cucumber are annual weeds not generally found in home landscapes, but they can spread from infested adjacent areas. Because the vines can climb and almost engulf trees, they are more of a problem in shelterbelts and rural areas. As annuals, they grow from seed each year; their roots do not survive over winter.

Neither wild nor bur cucumber is edible. Their foliage resembles, to some degree, those of their cousins, cultivated cucumbers, which undoubtedly gave rise to their common names.

Wild cucumber

wild cucumber

(Mature fruit, to 2")

Wild cucumber

Illus: Weeds of the North Central States

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a vining weed often found climbing trees and shrubs that grow along river bottoms, swamps and other low areas throughout all but the northeastern quarter of Minnesota.

The smooth, branching vines reach lengths of 15-25 feet. Wild cucumber foliage is easily identified by its alternately placed star- shaped leaves, each with 5 to 7 pointed lobes. Its flowers are pale yellowish-white. Male flowers form clusters; inconspicuous female flowers occur singly or in pairs.

Wild cucumber's pulpy green, oval seed pods grow up to two inches long and are covered with sharp spines. When ripe, each pod bursts open and ejects four flattened spindle-shaped, brown or black seeds.

Bur cucumber

bur cucumber

Bur cucumber

Illus: Weeds of the North Central States

Bur cucumber (Sicyos angulatus) is another climbing or draping weed often found in woods, along streams and roads, and in shady, damp places. It is less common than wild cucumber as its range is limited to the southwestern and southeastern corners of Minnesota and along the state's western border.

Its slightly fuzzy vines can reach lengths of 15-25 feet. Bur cucumber leaves are more circular in shape than the wild cucumber and more closely resemble cultivated cucumber leaves with three to five shallow lobes. Its flowers range from white to green. Male flowers form loose elongated clusters on long stems; female flowers are found in round clusters at the ends of short stems. Fruits are borne in clusters of three to ten. Each fuzzy, yellow fruit is only about 1/2 to 3/4 inches long and about 1/4 inch thick, and covered with prickly bristles. Inside each fruit is a single, flat, egg-shaped seed.


If at all possible, pull or mow the weeds in spring as soon as they are found. Repeatedly pulling or hoeing the young plants before they've set seed will reduce the number of seeds in the area over time.

Dicamba, the active ingredient in some post-emergent herbicides, will control both weeds. However, do not use it under the canopy of trees and shrubs. Any product containing dicamba can be taken up through plant roots; rain or irrigation water can wash it into the root zone where it will be a problem.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in post-emergent herbicides such as Round-Up, can be sprayed or painted onto young plants early in the season. This product may be used around trees as it will not be absorbed by the roots or bark. It can kill almost anything green and growing that it touches, so take care to keep it off desired plants.

These herbicides are most effective when temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees and should not be used when temperatures are forecast to exceed 85 degrees within the next 48 hours. Choose a time when no rain is forecast for at least 24 hours and preferably 48 hours. To avoid herbicide drift, spray only when the air is still. Herbicide drift can harm or kill desirable plants such as flowers, trees and shrubs.


Reviewed 1998

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