Creeping Cucumber: Melothria Pendula

by Green Deane

in Edible Raw, Pickles/vinegar, Plants, Protein Plant source, Vegetable, Vines

Green fruit is edible, ripe black fruit is not

Cute Cuke! Melothria Pendula

The Melothria pendula is a little cucumber with a big reputation.

That said, when it comes to the “creeping cucumber” I’m not sure you can trust botanists who never get out of the college classroom, or Internet experts who’ve never eaten a wild plant. It is one thing to copy, it is another to consume.

Crushed leaf smells like a cucumber

If you search the web for Melothria pendula (Mel-OTH-ree-uh PEND-you-luh) you will find two contradicting comments, that it’s edible and that it’s toxic. The state of North Carolina calls it mildly toxic, the state of Florida does not, one person says it is harmless, the other say it is harmful. Actually what they say in their own way is that at some point the Melothria pendula becomes the Mother of all Laxatives.

All I can say is I’ve eaten a lot of light to medium green M. pendula at a time with no apparent harm and have known others to eat them as well.  Many people put them in salads as they would cherry tomatoes. So where does the problem lie? Probably with the ripening fruit, or the one and only historical account was wrong. The little cukes turn black as they ripen and that’s probably a good sign to leave them alone. But green it’s salad here we come. The state of North Carolina adds its toxicity is low even if purgative.

Think jelly bean size watermelon

Professor Julia Morton, in the fifth edition of her book “Wild Plants for Survival in South Florida” says: “… the unripe fruit resembling miniature watermelons, are certainly eaten by children in South Florida with no apparent harm. F.P.Porcher in 1863 referred to the seeds  as ‘drastically purgative'; no evidence of that has come to hand to support that. In the West Indies and Central America, the fruits of M. guadalupensis are  eaten ripe and pickled unripe.”

In the 2002 edition of the academic journal Ciencia Ego Sum, authors Amaury M. Arzate-Fernández and Graciela Noemí Grenón-Cascales, investigated growing the M. pendula up to 8,500 feet.  Translated from the Spanish, with thanks from my friend, Manuel Mora-Valls, they say:

Dimpled five-petaled flower on a long stem

“Melothria pendula L. has been mentioned as a wild species of the Cucurbitaceae family in Mexico that continues without being studied to its full extend  (Lira et al., 1998). The necessity of proteins, for man as well as for the livestock, is of high priority, and for this reason that the production of plants as source of amino acids is researched.

According to the “chemical-bromatologic” analysis of this plant carried out in the present work, this vegetal species under study constitutes a source of water, vitamins, minerals and, amazingly, also proteins. The fruits of this plant, despite its reduced size, has a pleasant sweet flavor and are edible for humans. Besides, its foliage is given to livestock as forage.  For this reason, this “wild cucumber” could be an additional nutritional alternative for men and animals.”

They say it is 12.6% protein, 16.30% fiber and 56.8% carbohydrates. They also say the entire plant is good for ruminants. Propagation is by seed and cuttings. Not bad for a plant the Tarheel state lists as toxic. What I would like to know is whether the leaves cooked are fit for human consumption. I’ll have to find out some day.

Of these five I woud only eat the two light green ones.

There is also a lot of misinformation about what the plant’s name means. There isn’t much of a problem with “pendula” which means suspended, and indeed the little fruits hang on stems off the vine. Melothria is another issue. Carl Linnaeus, who invented Dead Latin names for plants, was the first to call the creeping cucumber Melothria pendulabecause it was similar in description to a plant of the same name referred to by ancient Greeks .Most contemporary references, which just copy each other, usually say the meaning of “melothria” is unknown but refers to a classical vine that may have been in the gourd family, the Bryonia Cretica. However, that’s not quite accurate. Melothria comes from the Greek word Melothron, which in ancient Greek meant “an apple” and where we get the word “melon” in English.  Milo still means apple in modern Greek. Thus the meaning of “melothria” is not at all unknown. It means apple, or little apple, but which plant it referred to is an educated guess.Both Theophrastes and Dioscorides referred to a particular plant as the Melothria, and it might have been, as mentioned earlier, the Bryonia CreticaB. Cretica is a little round gourd that looks very much like a tiny green apple that turns red when ripe. Calling it a “little apple” makes a lot of sense because it turns red. And, it definitely has toxic properties but is also edible in some ways. Yet here is where the academics always confound me: They say Theophrastes and Dioscorides might have been talking about a white grape rather than the red Bryonia Cretica.

Let’s ponder for a moment… these Greeks called one of two plants a little apple. One of the plants has a small, round green gourd that turns bright red. The other plant is a grape that goes from green to whitish. So let’s ask ourselves the question: Would two botanical Greeks call a white grape a little red apple?  I don’t think so.  Where do academics get these ideas? Not in Greek class!

The fruit of the M. pendula is only about one to two centimeters long and looks like a perfect, smooth, miniature watermelon. But, it has a definite “cucumber” aroma and taste, some times a slightly tart cucumber taste. They are crisp when light green, but grow mushy when dark green — like an overripe cucumber —  and not at all pleasant when black.  I suspect that if the seeds are purgative it is when they’re mature, which is what happens to another gourd, the Momordica charantia. M. Charantia is edible when green and cooked but quite toxic and not edible when ripe. To learn more about the M. charantia click here.

Another little cuke that is close in size and use to the M. pendula but with no reports of laxative issues when ripe is Melothria scabra, or the Mexican Gherkin or Mexican Sour Gherkin. Its seeds can be ordered from a variety of seed-sellers online.

M. pendula (also called the Guadeloupe cucumber)  is a perennial vine with leaves that are palmately lobed — like a hand with pointed tips. The largest leaves, near the base of the plant, are about 2-inches long. The leaves grow smaller towards the tip of the vine. Like other members in the family, it has curly tendrils to grab other plants for support. The vines can reach many feet long and form mats or spiderweb-like drapes. The flowers are yellow and very small with five petals. Its preferred habitat is along the edges of marshes, sandy roadsides, low woods, parking lot shrubs, and almost any fence.

M. pendula is found from Pennsylvania to Florida, west to Texas and Nebraska, and throughout the world. Other scientific names include:  Melothria nigra, Melothria nashii, Melothria microcarpa, Melothria guadalupensis, Melothria fluminensis, and Melothria edulis.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Vine with slender, climbing stems and curled tendrils. Leaves dark green, three to five lobes, 1.5 to 3 inches, resembles English Ivy but more delicate. Flowers, small, yellow, five petaled, notched at the end.  Fruit looks like doll-size watermelon, green and mottled or lightly speckled when unripe, black when ripe, filled with juicy pulp and whitish seeds.

TIME OF YEAR: In northern climes in fruit in summer, like a cucumber. In southern areas it can fruit all year if no frost.

ENVIRONMENT: They grow from moist to occasionally watered spots, often found draping on shrubs.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young light green melon can be eaten out of hand or added to salads for a cucumber flavor and aroma. They can be pickled. Remember, do not eat dark green or black fruit. Otherwise they are a nice nibble.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jaclyn December 19, 2011 at 13:10

What can you tell me about the cucumis melo var. dudaim.(AKA smellmelon) (AKA Muskmelon)? I have these beauts all over my yard here in southeast texas and was wondering if they are edible?? Hate for them to go to waste.
Any advice is very appreciated MR. Green Deane

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2 Green Deane December 19, 2011 at 15:37

They are usually considered not edible but that’s a tad inaccurate. They were used to make preservies, such as marmalade out of the rind, or the rind was pickled like watermelon rind. There is one old report that they were boiled a long time like a vegetable but I’m not sure that would get rid of the bitterness. I don’t have any to experiment with.

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3 Jayemm Kay August 23, 2012 at 19:54

Thanks for this article! I have several of these vines that popped up in my container flower pots. I put a couple of tomato cages in the planters and wound them around the wire. They started having fruit and I was tickled to see the tiny cukes! So I thought I will let them get bigger and harvest them later….now they are black like little olives! Too late now! Oh well, i’ll see if they come up again next year and pick them when they are green and crunchy!

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4 DrG September 2, 2012 at 16:36

they (Melothria pendula) come up in my side yard every year and I have always thought they were good to eat while green. The dark ones always had a funky taste which is why I always left those to re-seed the area. It’s great to find a positive id on the little things

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5 name September 12, 2012 at 10:42

I knew this plant was edible, but was not sure what part. I had doubts about the fruit. I too wonder about the leaves. to bad the fruits have gone soft now. I have never had enough courage to try this until now.

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6 Shawn Gallagher September 16, 2012 at 08:24

I have these things all over my woods and have been cautiously nibbling on them. Now I can really enjoy myself thanks to this new information. I’m just wondering why the squirrels don’t seem to eat them. They seem to eat everything else; mushrooms, maple seeds, pine cones, and acorn. None of which taste very good to me. Just so weird that these little cukes can taste so good to me and not be part of something else’s diet.

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7 Marla September 24, 2012 at 21:05

These have become a bit of an invasive weed in my yard. I’ve always wondered if I could eat them – especially the light green ones – they smell so much like a cucumber when cut open. The black ones never tempted me at all. Now that I can eat them, I can think more kindly of them as I pull them off my rose bushes!

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8 Shawn Gallagher October 4, 2012 at 10:40

I would like to retract my last statement, I in fact DID see a squirrel searching for, picking and eating one of these things. I just never noticed it before, maybe because these things are only out for a short time during the year.

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9 Roy Atwell October 15, 2012 at 16:27

How can I kill the plant withour killing my juniper?

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10 Green Deane October 15, 2012 at 20:07

Killing plants is not my area of expertise. You could pull it out of the ground before it fruits. If you did that for a while it might get rid of it.

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11 demonwolf April 23, 2013 at 22:39

i just got some seeds to plant these little melons. so let me get this right. you can eat them whin they are lite green. an dont eat them whin they start to ture black right? and they have a hint of a lime tast as well? how long dose it take after you plant them befor the melons appear on the vines? and how long do the vines grow? thank you for anyone that can help with the anwsers.

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12 Green Deane April 24, 2013 at 05:28

They grwo quickly, a couple of months…

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13 josh yingling April 25, 2013 at 15:06

hey deane, thanks to your website I found some of these on a neighborhood bush on my evening walk last night. I looked at the vine and said I know that plant and looked back on your website to confirm and ate some of these tasty little watermelons. I gave one to my wife and said they would be a great addition to salads. I also took some home to plant in my small area of my yard for “wild” edibles. thank you for what you do.

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14 Beth May 17, 2013 at 11:40

Hi Deane, Your website and you tube videos are so packed with useful accurate educational information. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I would love to try Melothria pendula on my property do you know of a source of seeds. I live in northwest Florida. Thanks!

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15 Mirza Cabalteja June 12, 2013 at 21:34

Thank you very much for your site. Just been on a vacation in the northern part of the Philippines and our guide on our way to the falls had shown me the fruits of this vine and told me it’s a wild cucumber. I tasted the light-green fruit and it tasted just how you described it. I went on to eat a few more and picked some black ones for planting. But before I do that, I did some research and came across several varieties of wild cucumbers which do not match the fruits I’ve eaten. Am really so thankful for your info, perfectly matches what I’ve eaten and the black ones which I’ll be planting in a pot, for I dont have a yard to plant it on. Thanks, thanks so much!

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16 Pamela August 10, 2013 at 18:30

These appear in my side yard (sandy soil on the edge of the woods in NE Florida) & I’ve always let them be since the butterflies LOVE the little yellow flowers, and for a vining plant, they are not what I would call “invasive”. They are also rather attractive. After reading your article, I plucked a small bright green fruit, cut it in half, & it smelled just like a cucumber. I tried it & it even tasted just like one. I now what to propagate these along my lattice since the butterflies love them, they are pretty but not too invasive, & edible to boot! Thanks for the informative article! :)

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17 Joel August 22, 2013 at 16:13

I just found some of these here in orlando and they do taste just like little cucumbers! I couldn’t help but taste one of the black ones and notice that it’s a little bit sweet, almost grape like. Do you know if there’s any way to process the black ones so you don’t have to worry about the adverse effects? Maybe boiling to make jelly? Or drying to make sweet cucumber raisins?

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18 Green Deane August 22, 2013 at 16:22

No, but if you discover a way please let me know.

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19 Nancy August 27, 2013 at 17:31

I love these little veggies. I eat them as I water my garden or I use them in salads. I have suffered no side affects. If I grow them again I will put them in my flower garden to go up the trellis as they are a pretty plant.

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20 Joanne P September 20, 2013 at 11:49

Hi Green Deane: I live in Central New York and have what I think is this vine in our backyard, crawling all around bamboo plants. However, each piece of fruit is covered in spikes/thorns. Is this the same plant??? Thank you, Joanne

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21 Green Deane September 21, 2013 at 20:19

No, totally different. You might want to ask Steve Brill.

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22 Lesley Eats October 1, 2013 at 16:16

Ah, thank you so much for this. A couple of vines appeared along the fence, coming from my neighbor’s yard last year. I left them alone. This year, they are back and I decided to finally figure out what they are. I’m curious where they came from. I’m in Nashville. I wonder if it was from a bird’s droppings. Regardless, I’ll keep an eye out for the black fruits to keep them away from my daughter. I don’t think any made it that far last year, thanks to the squirrels.

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23 Sarah Jones November 11, 2013 at 21:12

Do you know if it is ok if dogs eat the leaves? My dogs find them growing in the grass and eat the leaves. So far I have not noticed any ill effect. Maybe it is a laxative for them. I have read that dogs won’t eat weeds that are poisonous; but don’t know if that is true.

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24 Green Deane November 12, 2013 at 05:59

I’ve not heard of any problem with Melothria pendual and dogs. Bitter Gourd, yes, but not creeping cucumber.

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25 FlGardener December 17, 2013 at 22:21

What perfect timing! We have this plant growing on Coco Plum shrubs where we installed a landscape in Vero Beach. I am so glad we did not remove it. It was fruiting the last time we examined it. I can’t wait to eat some of the green fruits.

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26 J Wright May 14, 2014 at 22:45

I spent so much time pulling these from my flower beds and off of my porch railing last year. I thought they looked scary (poisonous) but Im glad to find that they are not too bad. Funny thing though- I special ordered some new seeds to try this year among which was Melothria scabra, or the Mexican Sour Gherkin. Sheesh! I wish I had known that I already had something similar growing abundantly as a weed in my yard!

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27 Jeff May 15, 2014 at 19:48

When I lived in north Florida I would occasionally run across these and loved to add them to a salad. Now that I have moved up north, I look for some each time in vacation in Florida but have yet to find any at the right time to collect for seeds. Are these sold anywhere?

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28 Green Deane May 16, 2014 at 08:12

The seeds of a close relative are sometimes sold under the name “Mexican gherkins” aka Melothria scabra. I would think if you searched the botanical name in Spanish you could find some sellers because it is a recommended food in Mexico.

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29 Rhonda July 21, 2014 at 08:19

My young lab loves to eat on these vines. I was curious to know if it was harmful to her. Relieved to find your site. Thanks for the info! :)

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30 Green Deane July 21, 2014 at 10:18

However bitter gourd is toxic to dogs.

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31 Kelly Creamer August 10, 2014 at 15:53

My dog loves to eat the flowers off of these vines. She walks along them and pulls off the flowers one by one. She is the 2nd dog I’ve had at this house and both loved the vines. I try not to let her get too carried away, but hasn’t seemed to bother her. She is 9 years old and super healthy.

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32 C. D. September 13, 2014 at 20:52

My dog (Cairn Terrier) would pick the leaves off this plant and eat them one by one whenever it found this vine. Never suffered any ill effects. I wondered if the fruits could be eaten, so interesting article.

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33 Lynne September 24, 2014 at 10:40

Thanks for the info. Had some cute cukes in my morning yard grazing today, just past fall equinox in zone 7b. Nice with my carolina raspberries! Thank you for sharing.Lynne

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