Wish List: Ecballium Elaterium, The Squirting Cucumber

Ok, so I admit it. The 10 year old boy in me is alive and well. I have been re-reading a wonderful collection of writings by Katherine S. White on gardening (originally published in the New Yorker over many years). I highly recommend this book, especially  to anyone who loves reading seed catalogs.  She actually does a sort of literary criticism of them.

In passing is a mention of a plant that immediately caught my attention:

Katherine S. White quotes another garden writer of the time: 

Mormodica-Cucurbitaceae-The Squirting Cucumber. An annual gourd-like plant, with wholly leaves, and yellow flowers, the fruit of which resembles a small cucumber; and which, when ripe, bursts the moment it is touched, scattering it’s seeds, and the half-liquid, pulpy matter in which they are contained, to a considerable distance. This quality made it a favorite, in gardens, a century ago, when some people were yet in a state of sufficient barbarism to find amusement in the annoyance of others; but it has now deservedly fallen into disrepute, and is seldom grown. 

She then responds by saying, “I’m afraid I know several little modern American barbarians who would be delighted if their grandmothers would grow them a supply of squirting cucumbers.” Yes Katherine, you are right. This little barbarian is, indeed, intrigued.

The genus has since been changed. The new taxon, Ecballium elaterium, has been assigned to this plant. A native of Southern Europe, Africa and Asia the squirting cucumber will probably do fine in Tucson gardens. And yes, it has little value to anyone except to be annoying and hilarious. Oh wait, no! It has another fine attribute. It is a pretty decent laxative. So I suppose if you wanted to make some special cookies for that special person, to encourage them to spend some quality time with the ceramic throne, this could provide more barbaric entertainment.

Horizon Herbs offers seeds of this wonderful plant.


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