Wild cucumber is also called bigroot, manroot, and old-man-in-the-ground. It is a somewhat weedy, viny perennial that arises each year from a massive taproot. The stem is long and thick, with secondary, long, viny branches arising from the main stem.
The leaves are stalked and roughly heart-shaped, often reaching more than 20 cm in length and width. The margins are shallowly, palmate-lobed. Numerous straight to spiraled tendrils loop off of the stem to wrap around other plants or objects to support the plant (See photo at right.). This is how the plant supports itself off of the ground, so the plant may be trailing or climbing.
The flowers are waxy-white and and star-shaped with 5 petals. The stamen-bearing flowers are found in racemes while the pistillate flowers are in the leaf axils. The flowers are bell-shaped with the tube from 3-6 mm long and the lobes of the corolla triangular, ovate or ovate-oblong, each measuring 3-8 mm long and 2-5 mm wide. Individual flowers are single-sexed, bearing either a pistil or stamens. The inflorescence is a loose raceme (See photos at top). The fruits are gourd-like, ovate, fleshy at first, with prickly spines (see photo below). They range from 3-8 cm long. The fruits and seeds are poisonous.
The wild cucumber is found in fields, bottom lands, open hillsides, and along roadsides.
The wild cucumber is found from southern British Columbia south through Washington and Oregon to northern California, and is found mostly west of the Cascade Crest. It may extend further east along the Columbia and Snake Rivers as far as the Oregon and Idaho border in the Snake River Gorge.
Spiny, ovate fruits of the wild cucumber from The Dalles Mt. Road, north of The Dalles, OR.........May 14, 2006.