Monday, September 1, 2014

Number 537 - One-seeded Bur Cucumber

One-seeded Bur Cucumber, Sicyos angulatus, has just been added to the list of plant species found growing at Blue Jay Barrens.  That makes this species the 537th plant species to be identified here.  Despite the inconspicuous flowers, One-seeded Bur Cucumber is a native species that grows large enough to demand notice.

This is a vining plant that is typically found in thickets.  That’s exactly where I found it.  The thicket in question just happens to be found beside my bird feeding station, not over 30 feet from the house.

I first noticed the Cucumber vines blanketing the tops of some six foot tall Wingstem plants.  The sight reminded me that I had seen a seedling plant in this area earlier in the summer that I dismissed as an errant gourd.  It’s not unusual for a Chipmunk to get hold of some gourd, squash, or pumpkin seeds from the garden and bury them around the yard. 

This plant had a slightly ungourdlike appearance that warranted a closer investigation.  From the Wingstem, the vines made their way up into an apple tree.  On these vines, I could see flowers that were like nothing I’ve ever had in the garden.  I had seen plants like this before, so I was denied the thrill of working an unknown species through the keys, but it was new for my property and I was prepared to enjoy getting to know this new arrival.

The plant stems are extremely hairy.

Leaves are similar to many garden melons.  The dusty film worn by this leaf is caused by pollen falling from nearby Giant Ragweed.  Everything in the area is taking on a yellow glow.

Tendrils allow the plant to hold tight to supporting vegetation.  The plant has already achieved an elevation of 15 feet and is continuing to ascend.

These plants have separate male and female flowers.  The male flowers develop in a cluster at the end of a long stalk.  The female flowers are clustered on a short stalk that keeps them close to the plant stem. 

The male flowers are typically greenish or pale white. 

Like their garden relatives, the female flowers seem to emerge from miniature versions of the fruit to come.  This structure contains the ovary in which the seed will develop.

Once pollination occurs, the withered blossom drops and the fruit begins to enlarge.

At this stage, the spines on the fruit are soft.  Once the seed matures, this outer covering will dry and the spines will become stiff.

Inside is the single seed for which the plant is named.  The question I am now pondering is the origin of the seed from which this plant developed.  Did it arrive from afar in a bag of bird feed?  Maybe it originated nearby and traveled here in the gut of a bird or mammal.  It’s possible that strong storm winds carried the dried fruit aloft and deposited it beside my house.  At least it’s a native species, so I’m not looking at another alien invasion.  Now that it’s here, I’ll just watch it and see what is next to develop.

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