Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the February 11, 2006 Newsletter written at Hacienda San Juan Lizárraga one kilometer east of Telchac Pueblo, Yucatán, MÉXICO and issued from Hotel Reef Yucatan 13 kms to the north

Spiny Cucumbers, Cucumis anguria, also Bur Gherkins

Nowadays in dry, sandy soil along weedy roadsides sometimes you come upon scatterings of what appear to be a dozen or so brightly yellow-green, spiny eggs lying randomly on the ground. When you pick one up you see that the objects are actually fruits attached to withering, scabrous vines, and that the prickles are soft. In fact, they're something like cucumbers, as you can see at the right.

These fruits are almost cucumbers, being not only members of the Cucumber Family, the Cucurbitaceae, but also of the Cucumber genus, Cucumis. They're CUCUMIS ANGURIA, which my books call West India or Bur Gherkins, though I can't imagine regular people calling them anything but Spiny or Prickly Cucumbers. They taste almost like garden cucumbers, but they're filled with so many plump, fairly hard seeds, and possess so little firm flesh that I doubt many people would eat them unless they were hungry. I've eaten them, including the one in the picture, but the seeds sure are scratchy going down.

The species grows from Florida and Texas south through Mexico and Central America to South America. Some gardeners grow it as a curiosity, and I read that despite the seeds they can be pickled. Though botanically they're known as "gherkins," the gherkins of commercial mixed pickles are usually young cucumbers (Cucumis sativus).