I don’t normally bother too much with Latin names, but it is important here as there are two plants that are known by the name ‘exploding cucumber’, one, Cyclanthera explodens, the edible one which we will look at today, then there is the poisonous one, which you definitely shouldn’t eat, also know as the squirting cucumber, Latin name Ecballium elaterium. The first one fires its seeds out dry like shrapnel, the second one squirts them out in a gooey stream like a, well, like say a water pistol.
Both of these are dangerous in their own way. The first one is poisonous and inedible but the edible one I have been growing comes with a health warning which I must admit I didn’t pay much heed to. I thought it might be a bit of a sales gimmick. Not so, I was poking around in a bowl of these which had been sat on the side for a couple of days and BAM! there was a pop, and one of them ripped itself open and threw seeds across the room, probably 3 or 4m.
These are another example of my addiction to growing odd things, not just odd chillies, but odd cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs etc. etc. I always seek out the unusual, and always shun vegetables with names like ‘Bountymore’ ‘Harvest King’, ‘Moneymaker’ and the like, mostly these are going to be prolific, quick, but correspondingly bland.
The seeds came from realseeds.co.uk They are weird flat things with rough edges. I started them in late March (in the southern UK), they germinated well and grew quite quickly in the greenhouse. I needed the space so I planted them outside in a sheltered spot thinking it might be a bit too early for them, but no, they flourished.
Very quickly they spread, more than I thought they would. In fact I have had to cut them back quite ruthlessly, otherwise the two plants would take over the garden. They have probably spread about 10 feet in every direction, and there is still quite a lot of growing time left (as of 6th August). They were starting to strangle some beans, some ‘normal’ cucumbers, a tomato plant and a big rocoto chilli, and they are marching through some crocosmia to a flower bed.
That said, this isn’t really a complaining, they are a food plant, and a bountiful one, so it is my fault for not giving them enough space to flourish properly. Next year I will do better.
For those that fancy a go at these, I would say that in their habit, they are more like mouse melons (cuca melons, Mexican gherkins, etc. etc. the ones James Wong loves to grow), so treat them the same. I think they are a bit more edible though, you pick them young, and chop them in two or 3 pieces straight into salads. I find mouse melons a little tough and sharp if you don’t get them early. These are quite happy outdoors once they have been given a warm start, in fact you would be mad to let them take over your greenhouse unless you had unlimited space.
WARNING (and this is no joke). If you leave them to grow to their full size (about 3cm, or just over an inch), then they can and will explode black seeds at you from a long way off, and so fast that you won’t see them and they will get in your eyes. So the warning I took with a pinch of salt definitely stands. Pick them quick and do it wearing glasses or goggles.