|By Johnny Caryopsis||(Click links for more images.)|
Manitoba has lots of weird and wonderful native plants, but not many of them can be used as doll underwear! By now, you ought to know I never kid about stuff like this! Yes, you can make doll underpants from the dried fruits of the wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata). As a child that was my first introduction to this plant, being shown how to pull apart the dry "cucumber" to reveal the "undies" within. I can't remember who it was that showed me this trick, but the notion has stuck with me to this day. Once you've seen it and done it for yourself, you'll never forget what it and the plant looks like. And that, by the way, is a basic nature-interpreter's trick. If you want people to remember a plant or animal, you relate some strange fact or story about it that will stick in their minds. I guarantee it . . . you'll think of doll underwear whenever you next encounter wild cucumbers.
Wild Cucumber is quite common in Manitoba, especially in the southern part of the province along waterways. It is a member of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) and it is related to its domestic namesake, the garden cucumber (Cucumis sativus). The Wild Cucumber produces a large, kiwi-fruit-sized cucumber, but it is thick skinned and hollow, not fleshy like a garden cucumber. You can grow it as a novelty plant in your garden, just give it lots of room. It is an adept and aggressive climber with attractive foliage, and, of course, the interesting cucumbers. I've seen it grow more than 5 m high on a TV antenna pole! The dried vines and cucumbers are great in dried arrangements.
If you find some dried wild cucumbers, here's what you do. Locate the open end of the dry cucumber, where the seeds will have fallen out. Hold the outside of the cucumber with one hand and with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand grasp the net-like structure inside and pull. Once you've yanked it out you'll see how it resembles a pair of "fishnet undies" suitable for a tiny doll. If any one sees you doing this . . . well, you'll think of something to tell them.
Carry on for the Biology of Wild Cucumbers!
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