Melothria pendula L.

Creeping Cucumber


CC = 8
CW = 0
MOC = 12

© SRTurner

Family - Cucurbitaceae

Habit - Monoecious perennial vine with fibrous roots and often a short, woody taproot.

Stems - Creeping and sometimes climbing, to 4 m or more, slender, glabrous or sparsely pubescent with short, spreading hairs, not strongly roughened, the tendrils usually unbranched.

Melothria_pendula_stems.jpg Stems.

© SRTurner

Melothria_pendula_tendril.jpg Node and tendril.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Alternate, simple, long-petiolate, the petiole 2-3 cm long, with sparse to moderate spreading hairs. Leaf blades 2-6 cm long, 2-9 cm wide, broadly ovate to nearly circular in outline, palmately shallowly to moderately 5-lobed with 3 major lobes and usually 2 minor lobes, the lobes broadly triangular to less commonly oblong-triangular or ovate, with pointed or rounded tips and usually broadly (more than 90°) or rarely narrowly rounded sinuses, cordate at the base, the margins otherwise sparsely toothed, the surfaces sparsely to moderately roughened with inconspicuous, short, pustular-based hairs.

Melothria_pendula_leaves.jpg Leaves.

© SRTurner

Melothria_pendula_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Melothria_pendula_leaf2a.jpg Leaf abaxial surface.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Solitary (pistillate) or in small clusters (staminate) in the leaf axils, the main stalk 15-35 mm long, the clustered flowers with individual stalks 1-3 mm long. Calyx lobes 0.2-0.4 mm long. Corollas 3-5 mm wide, saucer-shaped to broadly bell-shaped, the usually 5 lobes 2-3 mm long, yellow to occasionally yellowish green. Staminate flowers with the stamens distinct. Pistillate flowers sometimes with 3 staminodes, the ovary with 3-6 ovules per placenta, the stigma 3-lobed.

Melothria_pendula_flower1.jpg Flower (pistillate).

© SRTurner

Melothria_pendula_corolla.jpg Corolla.

© SRTurner

Melothria_pendula_pollinator.jpg Pollinator?

© SRTurner

Fruits - Solitary, juicy berries, 0.7-1.2 cm long, ovoid to nearly spherical, the rind relatively thin and leathery, indehiscent, with a stalk 30-50 mm long, the surface mottled with darker and lighter green, sometimes yellowish green, becoming black with age, smooth, glabrous, glossy. Seeds 10-14, 3-5 mm long, 2.0-3.5 mm wide, elliptic-obovate to obovate in outline, flattened, sometimes bluntly pointed at the tip, the surface smooth or finely wrinkled, white to off-white, usually shiny.

Melothria_pendula_fruit1.jpg Fruit.

© SRTurner

Melothria_pendula_fruit2.jpg Fruit interior.

© SRTurner

Flowering - July - October.

Habitat - Forests, ditches, ravines, streambanks, acid seeps, roadsides.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - None when flowering. Vegetatively the plant resembles Sicyos angulatus.

Other info. - This vining relative of cucumbers and squashes is not common in Missouri, but may be expanding its range. In the past it has been confined to far southern counties in the state, but recent anecdotal accounts (Alan Brant and others) have suggested that it is moving northward, and it was discovered growing in Franklin County in 2018. Its broader range includes the southeastern quadrant of the continental U.S., and Mexico. The plant is recognized by its sprawling habit, numerous coiled tendrils, and tiny yellow flowers.

The green, unripe fruits of the plant resemble miniature watermelons, and are reportedly edible, with a flavor similar to cucumbers. Seeds of ripe (purple or black) fruits are strongly purgative and should not be consumed. The plant seems to be particularly well adapted to moist ditches, where it can grow rampantly and clamber over other vegetation.

Photographs taken at Holly Ridge Conservation Area, Stoddard County, MO, 9-12-2010, General Watkins Conservation Area, Scott County, MO, 7-30-2015, and near Labadie, Franklin County, MO, 9-1-2019 (SRTurner).