Anomalous Cucurbita

Some of you probably remember how a couple of weeks ago (WW 7-11-12, “Taking a Break”), I mentioned that Jim and I had a couple of volunteer cucumber plants growing out front.   We made this judgment based on the leaf shape, the color and size of the flowers, and the manner of growth.


Based on all of this and the space we had (not much unless we wanted to give up the sidewalk leading to the front door), we put tomato cages around the plants, then supplemented them with rope trellises when the plants grew taller. No problem… until the plants started setting fruit.

The first fruit to appear started as more rounded than our typical just-set cucumbers.  We raised eyebrows, but didn’t think much about this because we couldn’t recall if the cucumbers we’d been growing were hybrids or not.

Oh!  Wait.  Want me to back up a bit?  Right.  Many of the plants grown today are hybrids, bred for one or more special qualities.  Disease resistance, handling heat or cold, flavor, shape or color, and low seed production are among the things that growers have worked toward.  The cucumbers Jim and I have favored these last several years have been “oriental” varieties.  We like them because the flesh is crisp, they grow well in our heat, the skins are so thin you don’t need to peel them, and, frankly, because they look cool and you rarely see them in stores.

However, if you plant the seeds of a hybrid plant, you may find it has reverted to one of the “base” types.  This is what Jim and I initially thought was the case with our volunteer cucumbers.  We left them in, interested to see what we were going to get.  Even when the fruits became rounder, we didn’t give up our initial hypothesis as to plant species.  Lemon cucumbers are quite round and ripen to a distinct yellow, so we knew there could be lot of variation within the species.

But as the fruit continued growing, we began to give up on our hypothesis.  We stopped referring to them as “volunteer cukes” and started calling them “anomalous curcubitae,” the latter word being a reference to the larger genus that includes cucumbers, squash, melons, and gourds.  The first fruit kept growing, first softball size, then larger.  The shape stayed distinctly rounded.  The exterior began to change from a fuzzy green to something patterned.

Such was the case when Jim and I left for a long weekend visit to celebrate my mother’s birthday “back East.”  We asked our cat-sitter to keep up with the watering and hoped for the best.

When we got home, it was after dark, but the next morning I went out and checked the plants.  In five days, the fruit had changed enough that we made a new diagnosis.  What we had growing out there was not a cucumber but a cantaloupe.  Or, rather, I should say, cantaloupes, because at least two others had set.

This didn’t seem at all impossible.  We collect grey water in our kitchen and use it for the smaller beds and isolated plants.  Last summer, we ate a lot of cantaloupe.  Quite likely, seeds had made it into the water, landed on fertile soil, and later germinated.

I found myself  thinking that this was a good omen for the summer.  As I mentioned a while back, “cantaloupe” means “wolf song.”  You may have guessed, I have thing for wolves.  How utterly fantastic to have wolf song melons volunteering to grow in the front of my house!

I’m tempted to end this with a moral about writing and never knowing what random seed is going to become a story, but I’ll spare you.  However, I do have a question.

Can any of you tell me how to know when a cantaloupe is ripe?


7 Responses to “Anomalous Cucurbita”

  1. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    Here’s an absolutely foolproof way: cut it open and taste it. 🙂

  2. heteromeles Says:

    Often it will smell like cantaloupe (or whatever melon it is) when it is ripe, and it will also be heavy for its size, due to the amount of water in the tissue.

  3. Dominique Says:

    This is definitely a good omen, and quite the hilarious story 🙂 I can always tell when cantaloupe are ripe by the smell.

  4. Barbara Joan Says:

    I agree with hereomeles and Doinique. Also the stem end is usually a little softer when a cantaloupe is definitely ripe, but definitely the smell.

  5. Sally Says:

    “…when the fruit slips easily off the stem.” So says the book I had time to check this morning before work. The same book advises the smell test for other melons, but not cantaloupes (or watermelons, obviously). Having not grown cantaloupes, I can’t say from experience.

  6. Paul Says:

    We’re sure they ARE cantaloupes, aren’t we? (I’ve just read “The
    Body Snatchers” again…)

  7. janelindskold Says:

    Well, Paul, I certainly hope so. We’re planning to pick this one on Sunday when we have some friends coming over.

    If I don’t post next week, you all will know that it wasn’t a cantaloupe after all…

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